If you journal, you probably already know the reasons a consistent writing practice is helpful. Expressive writing helps us tune into powerful emotions, regulate daily habits, and organize our thoughts. Journaling fuels creativity, productivity, and mindfulness. But even the most avid of journalers might be surprised to discover the ways journaling can help the children in our lives experience the same beneficial outcomes.
My youngest kiddo is nine-years-old and lives with a chronic disease. As we navigate the challenges that this illness delivers, my husband and I try to provide our child with all of the best tools. As parents, we are committed to ensuring he has access to healthy foods, exercise, sunshine, and the medicines he requires. We check in regularly to discuss the emotions that may be welling up inside. For a long time, I felt like we had all the bases covered.
But although I’m a writer and a committed journaler myself, it never crossed my mind that this could be another tool to add to my child’s toolbox. Out of the blue one day, while my mind was on other things, my son asked, “Mom can I get a journal like yours and write in it with you before bedtime?” We’ve been journaling together ever since, and I’m in awe of what a meaningful part of his day it’s become.
When we started, I imagined my child journaling about monthly visits to the hospital or about taking unpleasant medicines. How surprised I was to see that he filled his pages instead with drawings of the snow that’s fallen, play time with friends, and lines from a book of quotations he finds helpful. (Still quite young, my child shows me the pages of every entry he writes before we turn out the lights. I feel so fortunate!)
In writing with my son, two significant points stand out to me. Initially, I’d provided my son with all kinds of tips to help him make the most of his journaling experience believing he’d use this tool to process his disease. When he showed more interest in drawing pictures of the snowman his dad built him, I was reminded of the inner wisdom that resides in all of us. My son instinctively knows how to use this tool in a way that resonates for him. The second gem I gleaned was the fact that kids are watching us all of the time. They see the ways we care for ourselves (or don’t), and they will mirror our behaviors.
Our nighttime ritual is a simple one. We get in our jammies, grab our journals and special pens, hop into bed, and then we write. Usually ten minutes does the trick for my son, but the amount of time doesn’t matter. It’s the ritual of the act that grounds us. When he tells me he’s finished, my son likes to share what he’s written. I know this won’t always be the case, so I especially treasure this last part of our routine.
Tips to Get Started
If there is a special child in your life who might enjoy journaling, here are ideas to help get you started.
- Share your journaling practice. Show the child your journal, the special place you sit to write in it, and tell them about your process. If the child expresses interest, invite them to begin their own journaling practice.
- Take your child shopping—to a store or online—and find a journal that they feel excited about. Make this event a moment they’ll remember always.
- If your child is artistic, consider gifting them with an unlined journal with paper that’s durable enough to absorb paints, sketches, and collage work.
- Journal with your child. Your enthusiasm is contagious.
- If your child is young, writing might be tiring. Offer to be their scribe and write down all of the words for them. If the child is older and has difficulty writing, assure them that using a keyboard is okay.
- If your child is on the younger side and you think they might enjoy this, invite them to share what they’ve written, while also assuring them it’s okay to keep ideas to themselves.
- Remind your child they can fill their journals with so much more than words. Art, collage, ticket stubs from a fun event can all be drawn, pasted, and scotch taped to the pages of their journal.
Get Started with a Prompt
Many young (and older) journalers are enthusiastic to begin writing but have difficulty getting started. Writing prompts provide a starting point and will help keep your child’s pen moving.
I wish that I could see ____again.
If I could know the answer to any question it would be____.
Today the best things and worst things that happened were____.
I wish my best friend knew____.
I feel proud of myself when____.
I am good at____.
I wish I was better at____.
Even though I know ____ isn’t real it still frightens me.
I want to learn about____ because_____.
Someday I will visit____.
When I grow up my house will be____.
Nature makes me feel____.
You know this child well. If you like, create your own prompts that you believe may inspire them.
The way we present prompts to kids can be part of the magic. Maybe you give them one special idea to write about. You might also provide a list of prompts that they can choose from. Or how about filling a jar with prompts and each morning they close their eyes and choose one. Every day can be different if that method appeals. Other children will be comforted by a predictable rhythm and routine.
Among the most important gifts we give our children is the confidence to believe in their feelings and the curiosity to want to know more. Journaling is one way to facilitate these lessons. Enjoy!