Kids with learning and thinking differences can struggle with self-regulation in various ways. For instance, kids with sensory processing issues may have trouble managing their emotions and body movement in tough situations.
When it comes to writing, self-regulation allows kids to manage tasks and monitor progress (also called self-monitoring), among other key skills. And there are lots of self-regulation strategies that can help kids improve writing skills.
These six strategies are at the core of the evidence-based teaching approach called self-regulated strategy development (SRSD). Have your child try these SRSD strategies one at a time. You can also reach out to your child’s teacher to find out how you can complement what’s being done at school.
Strategy #1: Task Analysis
When kids start a writing assignment, they often jump in without clearly understanding what they’re supposed to do. This can lead to big headaches. Your child might write several pages of a book report before realizing he was supposed to write an opinion piece on the main character.
How to teach this strategy: Ask your child at the outset what the writing task is. Have your child read the instructions aloud or, even better, explain the assignment in his own words. During this process, you and your child may want to highlight or underline key parts of the writing task together.
For more ideas, read a teacher’s tips for helping your child understand what a writing assignment is asking.
Strategy #2: Goal Setting
Even when kids understand an assignment, they may start writing without an end goal in mind. They might be so focused on finishing the task that they don’t think about the purpose of it. This can lead to a lot of dead ends. Without clearly stated goals, it’s also difficult for kids to improve their skills over time.
How to teach this strategy: Explain to your child that having clear goals can make the assignment easier and improve writing. Try setting three goals together. One goal may be to write a certain number of words for the assignment. Another goal could be to have a smoother writing process by using a graphic organizer. If your child is writing a story, a challenging writing goal may be to show the emotions of characters through dialogue, rather than just through description.
Strategy #3: Task Management
It’s common for kids to get sidetracked during a writing assignment. They may not have set aside enough time. Or they may have started writing 15 minutes before their favorite TV show comes on. Managing the process of writing is as important as understanding what to do for the assignment.
How to teach this strategy: Make a clear plan with your child about how to get the actual writing done. A simple way to start is to ask how long your child thinks the assignment will take. Agree on a time and place that’s quiet, and plan when to take a break. Talk with your child about how he’ll manage distractions, like being hungry or wanting to check social media.
Learn how to help your child manage a writing assignment by breaking it into chunks.
Strategy #4: Self-Evaluation
An important part of writing is looking over what you’ve written to see if changes are needed. Skilled writers do this continuously as they write. With struggling writers, the key is to make self-evaluation a habit over time.
How to teach this strategy:Give your child tips for when to stop and evaluate writing. For instance, skilled writers often re-read each paragraph as they finish it. Encourage your child to do that. Have your child think about the strength of the paragraph. Does it help accomplish the assignment? If not, what changes are needed? If your child used a graphic organizer, he could also check whether the paragraph includes all the ideas that were laid out in the original plan.
It can take a while for self-evaluation to become a habit. You may have to gently remind your child over and over again.
Strategy #5: Self-Reinforcement
Not surprisingly, kids who struggle with writing often dislike the writing process. They may feel uncomfortable about their writing skills. If they make a spelling mistake, for example, they may obsess about it. These negative thoughts can overwhelm them and make the assignment painful to complete.
How to teach this strategy: Give your child encouragement when he hits milestones during writing. Each time your child finishes a sentence or paragraph, give a little pat on the back. If your child has negative thoughts, come up with a few positive statements he can say to himself. Something like, “This is hard, but I think I can do it,” can have a big impact on how kids feel.
For more tips, find ways to give praise that builds self-esteem.
Strategy #6: Reflection
Another key writing strategy happens after an assignment has been completed: pausing to reflect on how the assignment went. Did your child achieve the goals you set together? Which strategies worked? Which ones didn’t, and why? Reflection is key to helping your child improve writing skills and avoid falling into a rut.
How to teach this strategy: Set aside time after the writing assignment is done to talk with your child about how it went. Ask if your child hit any roadblocks, like distractions or negative thoughts. Brainstorm what you could change next time to make the process smoother.
It’s also good to check that all aspects of the task were completed. Go over the strategies your child used and talk about whether they worked.
For example, if your child tried goal setting, ask about whether the goals were met. If your child used a planning strategy, talk through how the plan worked out.
Keep in mind that writing is one of the hardest skills for kids to learn. Teaching self-regulation in writing can help kids take a big step toward becoming better writers—but it may take some time to see improvement.
Learn about six essential skills needed for written expression. See a list of writing accommodations. And read a personal blog from a college student on how she uses technology to help her write.