All writers, particularly beginning writers, are vulnerable and easily wounded. As parents, we need to be sensitive to this fact, and practice positive ways of responding to writing. Our first reaction to our children’s writing should be a warm response. We need to tell our young writers what their writing meant to us, what mattered and touched us most, what we remembered most. When our children feel that their writing has been truly heard and appreciated, they will be more open to questions, and suggestions for change. Here are some steps to follow:

  1. Listen to what your child has to say. Give her your undivided attention.
  2. Tell your child what you understand. (Paraphrase: “Your story is about a boy who wants a dog.” Point out what stuck with you. “I really liked the part where the boy said ‘A dog would keep me company when you and Dad are too busy to play.’ It helped me understand why the boy wants a dog so badly, and made me feel sorry for the boy.”)
  3. Ask your child to clarify or expand on what you don’t understand, or would like to know more about. Let your questions arise naturally, from your discussion of her writing. (“Why don’t the parents want to get the boy a dog?” “Are there more reasons why the boy wants a dog?”)
  4. Watch your child as you give feedback on her writing. If she seems open to your questions and suggestions, ask her to show you how and where she will add the new information. If she seems overwhelmed or upset, back off, and praise her for what she’s done well. Later it may help to ask her for feedback on something you have written, so she gets the idea that making changes in a piece of writing is something all writers do.

Try encouraging your child to pinpoint the kind of feedback she’s looking for. She can use the language in her six traits booklet to help formulate questions. (e.g. “Does my dialogue sound natural to you?” “Does this part make sense?” “Have I used words that ‘paint a picture in your head?’” “Is my ending satisfying?”)

Here are some useful “generic” questions for discussing your child’s writing. But don’t let your use of such questions become “robotic.”:

To find out the writer’s purpose:

What’s this writing about?
What’s the best part of this piece?

To help the writer evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of a piece of writing:

How can I help you?
What do you think?

To discover how things are going for the writer:

Where are you right now?
What’s the best thing you’ve written so far?

To help the writer find a focus for a piece of writing:

You talked about ____ and _____ and ____. If you had to pick the most important part, which would it be?

To help the writer nail down a direction for the writing:

What will you do next?
What are your plans for this piece?

To help the writer articulate an experience he is writing about:

What was this like for you?

Only when your child is satisfied that her writing is finished is it time to look at conventions. Not all writing needs to be edited for conventions, but if a piece is to be “published” (printed for others to read), then conventions are certainly important. Here again, you will want to start by pointing out what your child has done well–correctly spelled words, a period in the right place, a capital letter used correctly–before asking questions or making suggestions: (“Why don’t you read through your piece and circle all the words you’re not sure are spelled correctly? Then I’ll help you see if there are any you missed.” OR “How about if we look at a book to see how the author uses quotation marks with dialogue?”).

If you aren’t sure which conventions your child is expected to learn at her grade level, ask her teacher. Most teachers are happy to have parents do a final edit on a piece of writing their child wants to “publish.” After all, professional writers have copy editors to catch their errors!


From the Writing Curriculum Files of Children’s Author, Suzanne Williams