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Battling Writer’s Apathy: When Kids Don’t Care

Helping an Unmotivated Writer

A parent recently shared with us her frustration over her son’s writing. “My daughter has always loved to write and has written stories and poems since she was tiny, so imagine my shock when my son had the opposite reaction. Every writing assignment I give him is a battle, and if he does complete one, he puts almost no effort into it.”

If this parent’s description sounded familiar, then you may be dealing with a case of “writer’s apathy.” You also may be wondering what, if anything, you can do to help rejuvenate your student’s motivation to write.  If your child could communicate some of the root issues behind his or her indifference toward writing, here are some of the things you might hear.

“I don’t care about writing because it doesn’t affect my life.”

As a parent, you recognize that this is a completely false statement. Your student is writing every day, whether they notice it or not.  Bringing their writing efforts to their attention, though, can often create an “aha!” moment for them. They begin to see that writing is not only a part of their daily routine, but that written communication will be important every day of their lives.

How to Help

Be sure to bring to your child’s attention any time that he or she:

  • writes a list
  • emails family or friends
  • texts someone
  • writes a command or response in a video or computer game
  • jots down a reminder note
  • draws or captions a cartoon or image
  • uses social media

Simply becoming aware of how often they use the written word can open up students to the next step: improving their written communication skills.

“I don’t care about writing because it doesn’t interest me.”

We all know how hard it can be to put effort into something that we feel detached from. Have you ever been volunteered for a committee you had no desire to be on? Have you had to sit through a meeting about a subject that doesn’t relate to you at all? If so, it will be easy to identify with a student who is being asked to write about a topic they couldn’t care less about.

How to Help

The surest way to engage a student in writing is to make it personal. If you don’t have a history buff, your student is going to feel naturally indifferent to writing about the War of 1812. However, if he or she spends lots of time watching nature documentaries and asks to volunteer at the local zoo, then it’s far more likely to pique their writing interest with a writing course involving wild animals.  When you can match writing tasks with individual curiosities and interests, you are on your way to turning writing apathy into writing enthusiasm.

“I don’t care about writing because I’m not good at it.”

In other words, writing is hard and your student would likely rather do something that comes easier and takes less time and effort. This is an incredibly valid reason for a student to avoid writing. Facing challenging tasks and the fear of failure loom heavy over all of us from time to time. In general, though, when a student doesn’t feel like a “good writer,” it’s either because he or she:

  • has a specific learning difference that is hindering their writing growth,
  • has missed some foundational writing instruction,
  • or has received negative feedback about past writing efforts.

How to Help

If you believe there is a specific learning issue such as dyslexia, dysgraphia, or other visual or motor deficits–such as apraxia or low-tone–then it’s imperative that you address that with a professional learning specialist first. A reading/writing professional will help you not only remediate those issues, but also learn accommodations that will make writing considerably easier.   

Then, it’s especially important to address any writing instruction gaps your student may have. Writing skills build incrementally; and when your student fills those gaps in, you both will be surprised how swiftly he or she will progress. There can still be a challenge, though, if poor writing grades or feedback in the past has affected overall writing confidence. In this case, you may want to stop grading your student’s writing altogether for a short while  until he or she regains enjoyment of writing for writing’s sake.  Then, make sure that any feedback given in the future only empowers them to improve.

By following these suggestions, you may begin to see apathy evolve into alacrity when your student encounters the next writing assignments. Our testimonials page is full of stories of parents and students finding their way back to writing success.

Read Their Stories

How to Motivate a Child to Write
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