How to Encourage Your Child to Journal (and the Benefits of Doing So!)

Journaling flexes critical-thinking and problem-solving muscles and also builds writing skills.

Mar 18, 2022



How to Encourage Your Child to Journal (and the Benefits of Doing So!)

Mar 18, 2022

Let’s face it: Kids love having their own space to write down their thoughts, dreams, and worries. By keeping a journal, your child can explore their world and feelings in a way that only putting words on a page can accomplish. 

There are many types of journals — and a journal can be different from a diary. Journals can chart everyday progress with a project, list observations on a subject of interest, or chart the pros and cons of an imminent decision.

“Journal, daybook, diary, notebook—they all have one thing in common,” says Ralph Fletcher, author of The Writing Teacher's Companion, published by Scholastic, as well as A Writer’s Notebook: Unlocking the Writer Within You. “They are books that encourage us to reflect on our lives.”

One of the joys of journaling, Fletcher says, is that journals are personal — as opposed to social media, which serves a similar purpose as a repository of thoughts and milestones, but is nevertheless public-facing.

“A journal is primarily for the writer — it’s reflective,” he says. “A Facebook post is for an audience of others — it’s communicative.”

Giving children a place to collect their thoughts and reflect on the events unfolding around them allows them to gain perspective on their day, whether by making connections between cause and effect or by delving into their feelings on the page. 

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“I’m a big proponent of the writer’s notebook,” Fletcher says. “I think of it as a place where we can dig deeper, reflect on what’s important, collect ‘seed ideas’ for possible future writing, and play with language.”

The nature of a journal, diary, or writer’s notebook means the entries are open-ended: Your child is unencumbered by restrictions and can write to their heart’s content about anything. Finding such freedom in journaling may inspire a love of writing in your child, or at least a comfort level with longer-form writing.

“When kids (or anyone) write in a journal or notebook, many good things happen as a result,” says Fletcher, whose bumper sticker happens to read “Writing is fun.” 

“Journaling builds writing stamina, and kids are going to need that as they progress in school,” he says. “Also, when kids journal, they discover the pleasure of writing. Just like kids who enjoy reading are more likely to read at home, kids who enjoy writing are more likely to write at home.”

Here are Fletcher’s tips for encouraging your child to get started journaling.

1. Let them personalize it.

While all kids can benefit from keeping a journal, Fletcher believes parents must let their child personalize it, so their journal bears the stamp of their uniqueness. This way, they’ll want to return to writing again and again, as a safe haven and as an outlet for self-expression.

“There’s no one way to journal or keep a notebook,” he says.

Fletcher points out that kids are collectors, and a notebook is a place to “collect important things from your world.” It may motivate your child to store or “log” miscellanea in their journal that inspires or fuels their interests.

“Encourage them to include artifacts from the world,” he suggests. “A lovely leaf, piece of snakeskin, a cartoon, a photo. They can tape artifacts into their notebooks.”

If objects, pictures, or even sketches begin to outnumber words, don’t worry. In this increasingly visual (and less text-based) world, doodling may precede the writing, and that’s OK. Consider it the build-up to more intentional writing down the road.

“Don’t be surprised if kids, especially boys, want to draw in their notebook,” Fletcher says. “Let them!” 

2. Avoid giving them prompts — let them get creative instead.

We know from Scholastic’s Kids & Family Reading Report that when it comes to reading engagement, nine in 10 children enjoy the books they choose themselves most. You can draw a parallel to writing enjoyment here as well: If you let kids write about what they’re interested in, they’ll write more and with zeal.

“I’m a huge proponent of real choice in reading and in writing,” Fletcher says. “Let kids write about what they’re interested in. In general, I’m not big on giving kids prompts.”

But one does have to start somewhere. 

For those new to journaling, Fletcher says there’s no harm in offering a prompt one time. Here’s his sample list of starter topics your child could use as a jumping-off point:

  • a “mind picture” (what you see)
  • what moves you (something that evokes a strong reaction)
  • “fierce wonderings” (what you wonder about)
  • a dream
  • an excerpt of overheard conversation
  • a seed idea (something you might want to write about)
  • a memory
  • something that bothers you
  • something you’re trying to figure out

If you find you have a reluctant writer, Fletcher suggests being a role model and keeping your own journal.

“Let your child see you write,” he says. “Find an entry to share with your child.”

3. Respect their privacy.

A journal is a personal and person-specific outlet — one that calls for a certain amount of independence to maintain its significance.

“A journal or notebook is, and must be, for the person writing in it,” Fletcher says. “It’s for the child. To the extent that it becomes our thing, it will lose power for the child.”

It’s in these “high-comfort, low-risk” pages, as Fletcher puts it, that children can “find their strides as writers.” So it’s critical parents give them the time and space to nurture that ability.

“It’s private,” he says. “And if you think about it, kids have very little in their lives that is private. Parents should use common sense, but I would try very hard to respect the child’s privacy.”

If you feel that the contents of your child’s journal hold keys to their well-being, or gauging their interests and goings-on is paramount, you might follow Fletcher’s previous suggestion of sharing something from your own journal with the expectation of an entry in return.

“Then you could say, ‘I know your journal is private, but is there maybe one part you could share with me?’ he says.

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