Do you have a little perfectionist at your house? I know this child! Even if she prints well, has great ideas, can spell decently for her age, and reads on her own, she balks when it comes to actually writing stories on paper. How can you help your perfectionist deal with writer’s block?
The Root of Writer’s Block
Perfectionism is the number one root of writer’s block. It makes kids write shorter words and sentences so that they’re less likely to make mistakes. It incites them to wad up perfectly good ideas and throw them across the table. It drags out writing time so that it becomes painful for everyone in the room—student, parent, siblings—even the dog.
If your children (or young teens) struggle with writing stories independently, using short, choppy sentences, or becoming easily upset by their mistakes, there are some things you can do to help.
Tips for Warding Off Perfectionism
1. Establish limits.
Perfectionists want their writing to be … well, perfect. Sometimes, they’re afraid to start writing simply because they don’t know how long their story should be. Writing or recopying a long story can be overwhelming. But when you limit your children’s stories to a manageable length, say six or seven sentences, it feels doable.
2. Let your child dictate the story.
With a perfectionist, meltdowns can happen nearly daily, right? But here’s a game-changer: don’t force your resistant child or tween write the rough draft by hand.
Because perfectionists don’t want to make any mistakes, worry can consume them. What if I change my mind about something? What if I don’t know how to spell a word? But if you become the scribe, they can focus on the ideas instead of the physical writing. As one homeschooling mom explains, “Your child is the brains and you are the hands!”
- As your student narrates her story to you, print it neatly on lined paper, skipping every other line. (Alternately, type it on the computer. Double-space and use a large, clean font.)
- When finished, let her copy what you’ve written. As an additional aid, place a wide strip of construction paper beneath the line she’s copying from so she’s not distracted by other text. As she copies, she can slide the strip down line-by-line.
- If she gets discouraged, remind her that rough drafts are meant to have some mistakes! That’s why they’re called “rough” drafts or “sloppy copies.”
3. Find the positive.
Before your child begins copying, sit down together and talk about her story. Ask her to underline her favorite sentence, circle her three most descriptive words, and place an X over two great action verbs (or other favorite words). Ask her why she made these choices.
She’ll be more willing to copy all the words if she has already identified the positive features of her story. So acknowledge her best word choices and most interesting sentence. Children need assurance you’re not just looking for mistakes.
4. Set a time limit for copying the story.
Some students do well with a time limit. When your child is copying her story, anticipate that she’ll be able to sit still and focus for about one minute for each year of her age (so 7 minutes for a 7-year-old). When the timer goes off, she can stop—even mid-sentence. It’s perfectly fine if she hasn’t finished.
Let her do this once or twice a day, picking it up again the next day if need be. If holding a pencil is hard, take more breaks. It’s much more productive to have her work in short bursts with frequent breaks than to force her to complete her copywork all in one sitting.
5. Make a word wall.
If spelling is an issue, create a word wall at eye level from a sheet of butcher paper or poster board. When a word gives your child trouble, write it on a rectangle of paper and tape it to the word wall. As she recopies the story, it may be easier for her to look at the larger words on the word wall than to copy from your smaller printing on the paper.
When the wall gets full, remove the words she’s mastered to make room for new ones.
While these tips may not solve all your struggling writer’s dilemmas, they’ll go a long way toward smoothing away some of the roughness from the path as you help your perfectionist deal with writer’s block.
Kick perfectionism to the curb with WriteShop! Kids learn to look at their writing objectively and realistically, with lots of room for trial and error, mistakes and corrections. WriteShop Primary is perfect for your K-3 grader, WriteShop Junior is ideal for upper elementary, and WriteShop I lessons can help a struggling teen learn important writing skills.