Understanding Your Child’s Trouble With Writing

By The Understood Team
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At a Glance

  • It’s not uncommon for kids to struggle with writing.

  • They may have messy handwriting, trouble expressing ideas, or both.

  • When kids have difficulties with writing, it doesn’t mean they’re not smart.

When your child sits down to write something, what do you see? Messy handwriting and spelling mistakes? Your child staring out the window without writing a thing?

These types of writing difficulties aren’t uncommon. So you may be wondering if they’re something to be concerned about. Kids develop writing skills at different rates, and some take longer than others to learn these skills. But sometimes kids need extra help to get better at writing.

There are two main areas of writing where kids may struggle:

  1. Handwriting and spelling

  2. Expressing ideas in writing

Kids can have trouble in one area or both. Learn more about writing problems and what can help.

Messy Handwriting

Handwriting skills are part of an area of writing called transcription. (Spelling is part of transcription, too.) Trouble in this area affects how well kids can present their thoughts. This means that even when kids have great ideas that are well-formed and organized, it can be hard to get them across.

Teachers may have a hard time deciphering the words and sentences kids write. Even the kids themselves might not be able to read what they wrote.

When kids have a hard time with handwriting, they might struggle with:

  • Forming letters

  • Placing letters and words on the page

  • Making letters and words the correct size

  • Holding and controlling a pencil

  • Writing in a straight line

Kids might struggle with handwriting for a number of reasons. If they’re young, they might just be taking a longer time to develop these skills.

Trouble Expressing Ideas in Writing

Not all kids who struggle with writing have poor handwriting. Some have trouble getting ideas together and planning how to put them into written form. You might hear teachers refer to this as written expression.

Kids may not be able to come up with what they want to say. Even if they have an idea, they may have trouble knowing where to start. Or they may be able to start writing, but then not know how to organize the rest.

Trouble with written expression is often caused by poor planning and organization skills. But there can be other factors, too. Learn more about trouble expressing ideas in writing, and what can cause it.

No matter what the reason, there are things you and the school can do to help your child improve. Tools like graphic organizers can help kids plan out what to write. There are other strategies you can try at home, too.

Finding Answers About Writing Difficulties

Noticing that your child has a hard time writing is an important first step. Continue to observe your child and take notes on what you’re seeing. If there’s a pattern that goes on for a while, you may want to talk to someone. Your child’s teacher and pediatrician can be great sources of information and advice.

The more you know, the easier it will be to find strategies to help your child improve writing skills and make writing easier. One option is to have a free school evaluation, which can help you better understand your child’s challenges and strengths.

Struggling with any skill can make kids feel like they’re not smart. And that can take a toll on their self-esteem. Let your child know that everyone has difficulty with something—and that all people have strengths, too. Discover your child’s strengths. And if your child is younger, try this fun activity to celebrate them.

Key Takeaways

  • Some kids take longer to develop writing skills than other kids.

  • Keep track of the writing difficulties you’re seeing, and ask your child’s teachers if they’re seeing the same things at school.

  • Let your child know that everyone has difficulty with something, and that all people have strengths, too.

About the Author

About the Author

The Understood Team 

is made up of passionate writers, editors, and community moderators. Many of them learn and think differently, or have kids who do.

Reviewed by

Reviewed by

Charles A. MacArthur, PhD 

a professor of special education, researches writing instruction, self-regulated strategies, and assistive technology.

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