22 Feb 2013

Help! My Child Won't Write!

Handwriting is illegible, letters are backwards, and are formed at the speed of the average ice age. Your child holds the pen like a spear. You’ve been trying to wrestle it into the correct position and now one of you is sobbing under the table.

Find out more about how to hold a penHow big an issue this is depends on the age of the child. At five or six, it’s most easily corrected. By the age of ten, you might as well try to bring down the moon. But you should still try.

If handwriting is still a nightmare age ten plus, ask your child’s school to investigate whether it might be dyspraxia. This affects co-ordination and causes problems moving a pen about. Research suggests this affects one in ten of us to some degree. Dyspraxics may be uncoordinated in other ways too, like in ball games or riding a bike, or in processing and organising ideas. Help is available for this so you must ask.

At home, handwriting practice is boring, but it works, and kids don't hate it as much as you'd imagine. Often, they prefer it to original writing, because it’s mechanical. They don’t need to think.

Limit sessions to five or ten minutes at first, building up to fifteen or twenty. This should be done daily on weekdays and it's a good idea to give small rewards - although you should take care with this. Kids should be motivated by wanting to do a good job - not to please you or for chocolate. Beware of them rushing so they can get their sticky paws on the computer.

For age six plus, start with letters in cursive script (joined up handwriting). You can buy books for your child to work through, or print off your own practice sheets. If you’re going to make your own, be sure to start small (i.e. with the alphabet aaaaaa, bbbbbb, cccccc, dddddd before you start forming words - or nonsense words like - ababab, cucucuc).

One last tip: when helping your child, never freak out, never explain the hideous consequences of failure or compare them to anyone else. If you feel like doing this, or you sense they're losing the will to live, stop immediately and praise their effort. Don’t be over the top as this can feel insincere. Say something like ‘you worked hard’, ‘you tried hard’, or give very specific comments like: ‘you did two more lines today in the same time’ or 'all the (a)s are very neat'. Put the focus on your child: 'I bet you feel proud of how you're improving' is better than 'I'm proud of you.' You don't want to them in therapy when they're older.

With effort, their writing should improve within a few weeks. They're learning something more important too: it's effort that counts.