When it’s time for your child to do a writing assignment, how does it go?
Does the work get done without much fuss? Or does your child procrastinate, complain, or refuse to do it altogether? For some kids, writing isn’t a struggle. Others have a hard time putting their thoughts “on paper.”
You might hear teachers refer to these skills as written expression. Learn more about trouble with written expression, and how you can help.
Writing Difficulties You May Be Seeing
Expressing ideas in writing is one of the hardest things kids do in school. Some kids are naturally good at it and like writing. Others aren’t, and they may drag their feet.
There are also kids who just can’t seem to do it well, even if they want to. They might struggle to come up with ideas, organize thoughts, or figure out how to start or finish a piece of writing.
Writing trouble can show up in lots of ways. Kids who have a hard time with it may:
Make excuses and avoid writing assignments
Complain about not being able to think of what to write, or not knowing where to start
Write or type very slowly
Sit for long periods of time at a desk without writing
Finish a writing task quickly without giving it much thought
Sometimes, kids may seem to know a lot more than what they manage to get on paper. For example, your child might tell entertaining stories out loud—but struggle to tell the same story in writing.
Writing well isn’t easy. It’s a complex task, and kids have to master several skills. They need to:
Use proper sentence structure
Write in different genres and about different topics
Plan, edit, and revise their writing
Reflect on the process of writing
Understand what they read to use the information in their writing
Understand and use vocabulary that’s relevant
And, at the most basic level, kids need to have good handwriting and typing skills so what they write can be read.
If your child has trouble with any of these skills, the result can be poor writing. Here are some of the things you might see in your child’s writing, including short-answer questions on tests:
Words that are misused or that have the wrong meaning
Words that are repeated over and over
Messy handwriting or typing with lots of mistakes
Bad spelling and grammar errors, like missing verbs or incorrect noun-verb agreement
Words and sentences that don’t make sense
Essays or papers that lack organization
Written work that seems incomplete or half-done
Important facts or details glossed over or missing
An important factor to take into account is your child’s age. For example, a second grader might use the same adjective over and over, and that’s OK. But if it’s still happening in late grade school, then it can be a concern.
When kids have trouble with writing, it doesn’t mean that they’re not smart or that they’re lazy. It also doesn’t mean they’re not interested in writing. A lot of kids who struggle are trying as hard as they can. They just need more and better support to improve.
When young kids are behind in their writing skills, look at how old they are. Not all kids develop writing skills at the same rate. Some may take longer than others, and the differences can be even greater for kids who are young for their grade.
Sometimes kids struggle because they haven’t been taught important writing skills in school. Many kids learn best when teachers fully explain and show them how to write. This includes harder skills like how to organize a research paper. But it also means showing kids the basics, like when to use a comma or a period.
Some kids have specific challenges that can cause trouble with writing. For example, you may have heard of written expression disorder. This term refers to a difficulty with organizing and expressing thoughts in writing.
Another common one is trouble with reading. Reading difficulties can cause trouble with writing. That’s because reading and writing are language skills that work together.
Other challenges can impact writing, too. Some cause trouble with mechanical writing skills, like handwriting, typing, and spelling. Others affect focus and attention.
How to Help Your Child With Written Expression
Even if you’re not sure what’s going on, you can still work on building skills at home. That includes lots of practice, with help and encouragement.
Remember that struggling with any skill can make kids feel like they’re not smart. And it can be especially frustrating for kids who want to write but have trouble with it.