As we dive into this new year — while still wading through a devastating pandemic — you may be looking for fresh habits that help you and your kids increase your mindfulness and help process the times we are living through. If so, now is the time to start a regular journaling practice with your kids.
Journaling has loads of benefits for all ages. It can improve your writing, memorialise your experiences, amp up your creativity, and help relieve stress. It can also help us to better acknowledge and deal with our emotions — and it just so happens that we’re all going through a lot right now, including our kids. As Connie Chang writes for the Washington Post:
Through this process of expressing their feelings, children can begin to make sense of them, which builds self-awareness and emotion-regulation skills.
Journaling also helps “kids be present-minded and reflect on what’s happening today, what they’re going through now,” says Joshua McKivigan, a behavioural health therapist who works with high school students in Pennsylvania. In the context of the current crisis, this awareness can tame the anxiety that often comes when we’re confronted with uncertainties.
Get their buy-in
If you want to start a journaling practice with your kids, the first thing you don’t want to do is announce that you’re all going to do this, and that it’s time to sit down and start pouring their hearts out whether they like it or not. In order for it to be a treasured activity rather than a chore, you’re going to need their buy-in.
Think about what you would need to get excited about this process. Picking out the right tools is a good start: Let them choose their own journal, funky glitter pen, or a lap desk so they can journal more easily from the couch or their bed. And then let them help set the ground rules — this is a practice you want to do with them, not to them.
Decide on a structure
Talk together about how you’d like your journaling practice to look. There is no one way to do this — the best method is the one you all get the most enjoyment and benefit from. Maybe you want to sit down to journal once a week on a Friday night, after lunch on Saturday, or first thing Monday morning. On the other hand, a reluctant journaler might prefer to “micro-journal” by writing just one sentence a day.
If younger kids who can’t yet write want to join in, they can use pictures rather than words to illustrate their experiences, either by drawing the pictures themselves or cutting and pasting images from magazines.
And set a few ground rules, such as no screens while journaling, or an agreement that although you don’t have to share what you’ve journaled (unless you want to), everyone sits down together at the same time to do it.
But don’t be too structured
Now that you’ve decided exactly what you want your family journaling to look like, be prepared to shift course and drop rules or adjust expectations as necessary. Maybe your kids sometimes want to use a writing prompt (if so, you can find loads of them online); but maybe sometimes they just want to do their own thing. If some days they want to write, but some days they want to draw, that’s great.
They might want to reflect on what is happening in their life, or they might want to write a short story. Building the habit and providing an outlet for reflection and creativity is far more important than the actual structure — so follow their lead.