As kids, and maybe even at the most childish parts of our adult life, we've all crankily suffered from receiving "The Birthday Gift We Didn't Want." Growing up, in addition to the stuffed animals, light-up sneakers, makeup, and mostly materialistic things I've since forgotten about, my mom has always given me a journal for my birthday. I remember complaining to friends, "I didn't even ask for this." Here's the thing, though: I used them. I didn't always fill them front to back, but I never completely neglected one, and now they're one of my most prized possessions.
The entries became more complex and introspective with age ("Today was fun. I played house," turned into, "Why won't Josh date me?"). More often than not, it helped me feel better about whatever I was going through at the time, and offered me a place to let out the stresses and confusion of any given day. My journals have impacted my life in a beautiful and profound way, which is why I think it's so important for kids to start keeping a journal (or diary) early. Here's how (and why) to get them motivated to start writing.
1. Give Them a Physical Journal
There's been talk about how kids today are "writing" more than ever thanks to smartphones. While phones and tablets all have texting, Instagram, diary-type apps, and options for writing notes, a physical notebook gives room for little else other than writing or doodling — and that's important. If a child is going to feel encouraged to write, they need a place to do just that — pen to paper.
2. Don't Force It
This can be hard, because naturally, we want to encourage our kids and check in on them as much as we can. But when it comes to journaling, avoid making it something your kid thinks they have to do. If they view it the same way they do homework, they'll avoid it at all costs. But if you hand them a journal without instructions, they can use it for whatever they want. It will be less of a chore and more something they have power over.
3. Give Them Incentive
Some kids are very open and have no problem expressing how they feel, but there will come a point when even they need someone/something other than their parents to vent to (sad face, I know). At times like this, they may not know where to turn, so this is when you can encourage them to use their journal in whatever way they think might work best.
4. Don't Peek
It's SO hard not to spy on your kids, especially when something as easy as a journal is lying around their room. I mean, it's practically begging us to skim through it — but if you do it once, you're going to do it again. And if you happen to get caught or slip up by mentioning something they wrote, they'd be crushed, discouraged, or even humiliated. You'll lose valuable trust. They have the right to speak their minds without consequence in their journal, and you should respect that. Besides, parents don't want to know everything anyway. Trust me.
So, the earlier your kids start, the better. The fact that I'm able to look back at what I was thinking and feeling throughout my entire life is extremely valuable and rewarding. It can be a reminder of funny memories or difficult hardships you've overcome. It's a healthy, safe, and productive (not to mention cheap) way to let them cope and express themselves.