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Helping the Reluctant Writer—Good Parenting

Dear Dr. Debbie,

Our third grader has had many classroom assignments sent home to complete, all involving writing.

We’ve had issues with this since first grade that seemed to get better with ADD medication. This year’s teacher is asking us for ideas to keep him on task during class. Obviously she has limited time to sit one-on-one with him.

Not Fixed Yet

Dear NFY,

It’s great that you and the teacher are approaching this as a team. Students with ADD generally require more time for direct attention in a classroom situation. Consider what you know about your child to suggest some tried and true strategies that can accommodate a student with ADD.

Examples of Teacher Tips:

Alternate between physically active tasks and sedentary tasks.
Seat the distractible child between two more focused students.
Keep tasks short. Break up a larger task into one small task at a time.
Use the child’s name when giving directions to the whole class.
Use the child’s interests in examples when giving directions for a task.
Get the child started, then check in frequently.
Use a gentle touch on the shoulder before speaking to the child.
Allow a quiet distraction – rubber band, Silly Putty, fidget spinner – to use while thinking.
Seat the child close to the teacher for more frequent check-ins.
Put time in every day’s schedule for some daydreaming.

The classroom has different resources and restrictions as compared to what a parent can do during out-of-school time. If your child’s main issue with staying focused is with writing, you can (temporarily) remove the drudgery and frustration of forming letters on paper and increase the motivation for written expression.

Take Dictation
Show your child that writing things down makes it easy to save a good idea for later use. For example, either type or print his ideas about what should go on a grocery list or a “what to do this weekend” list. Work up to capturing more creative ideas by clipping an interesting magazine photograph that he can verbally caption by answering, “What is she thinking?” “What just happened?” or “What do you think is going to happen next?” He might want you to write down new lyrics to a well-known song. For example, think of other enterprises Old MacDonald might be involved with besides farming, and add objects and sounds related to this kind of business. Take the written song with you to the next family gathering for a sing-along!
The point is to take the work out of writing to get to the satisfaction of having his words recorded on paper or on a computer screen.

Tell A Good Story
Continuing with you doing all or most of the writing, help your child to link ideas together share an experience in a text, email, or letter to a beloved relative or a faraway friend. If it’s easier for letting the ideas flow, use voice recording technology on your cell phone or computer before writing or typing up his anecdote. Let him review it with you and suggest edits for you to make until it’s ready to be sent. Try to get an ongoing correspondence going with a pen pal, email pal, or text pal to build excitement for each missive.
Fantasy writing could be even more fun, especially if it’s not for a school assignment. Take turns to contribute the parts of a story: a main character, aspects of the character’s personality and physical attributes, a few details about the setting, a problem, and the twists and turns of the plot until the character’s problem is solved. For an easy introduction to this creative activity, look for Mad Lib pads wherever children’s books and or toys are sold, or use online templates for Mad Libs or fill in the blank stories.

Share the Load
When you’ve reached the point where your child is enthusiastic about having you write/type ideas down, slow the process down just a bit. Typing may be the way to go if pencil writing is a big struggle. Start with requesting that he (type or) write the first letter of a couple of the words. Then ask for a complete short word – you help with the spelling if needed – until you are taking turns to (type or) write a word or two throughout a grocery list, original song, letter, or story. Remember, the point is to enjoy getting the words written, so only go as far as he is ready to go.

Build Writing Muscles
Through avoidance, your child may have delayed the development of the strength and coordination necessary for easy writing. If despite enthusiasm for seeing his ideas recorded, his handwriting continues to be arduous, choose some fun activities to exercise hands and fingers. Play with play dough or knead and shape some real dough, use small blocks for building, open and close plastic boxes, play checkers, play War with a deck of cards, have a Thumb War, or “finger paint” with shaving cream or cornstarch and water on a tabletop.

Children with ADD can get frustrated with the time it takes to print each letter. Take a step back to help your child see how satisfying it can be to get his thoughts down before you can expect him to enjoy the same satisfaction from a pencil.

Dr. Debbie

Click here for more parenting advice by Debbie Wood.

What do you think? Email your comments or questions to Dr. Debbie at editor[at]chesapeakefamily.com.

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