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How to get children started on their journaling journey

From creating interesting diary prompts to highlighting the importance of gratitude journals, there is a lot that parents can do to get their children into the habit of journaling their emotions

The journal becomes that powerful bonding tool when children communicate with clarity about how they feel about different things. Photo: Pixabay

By Madhumita Gupta

LAST PUBLISHED 27.09.2023  |  01:00 PM IST

“I hope I will be able to confide everything to you, as I have never been able to confide in anyone, and I hope you will be a great source of comfort and support..."

It is with these words that Anne Frank started her new diary on 12 June, 1942—her 13th birthday. The diary became her sole confidante during her family's days in hiding from the Nazis in the secret annex. It was her way to vent, as well as to share her thoughts and feelings with ‘Dear Kitty’ to whom she addressed all her entries. 

Swati Sanyal Tarafdar, a social and climate justice journalist from Andhra Pradesh, has successfully introduced both her daughters to journaling. “[Of them] The 11-year-old does that every morning or when she is upset!" she says. Journaling and doodling, she feels, are friendlier than the more daunting option of mediation for adolescents. Writing with the purpose of unburdening oneself could be just as centering as meditation. “I can’t stress the importance of journaling enough for our children," she adds. 

Journaling has long been known to help children with reading, writing and communication skills. Along with that, it is also a tried and tested stress-buster and can become an aid for children in these times of continuous stress of studies and rising expectations. 

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Many of the dedicated diarists started young. Take, for instance, this year’s winner of the prestigious Rama Mehta award for short fiction, Paromita Goswami, a 53-year-old grassroots activist from Chandrapur, Maharashtra. She started journaling at 6 when she was recovering from jaundice alone in a hospital. Shibani Bawa from Delhi started writing a diary ‘Enid Blyton style’ to vent when she was 16, but then it became a therapeutic affirmation choice, which has continued for 30 years. She adds it liberates her by letting her “empty her head out".

For Priyanka Sacheti Mehta, a writer from Bengaluru, journaling started at 11 “possibly after reading about someone who wrote regularly". She always wanted to be a writer and journaling became the spring-board. 

Getting kids  to write regularly is another story all together!

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Any activity, which needs active involvement, as opposed to the quick click of the key/button to chat, watch or listen, does require effort, on the part of both the parent and the child. But one can get over the inertia by making it a weekly activity, to begin with, with the added lure of the beautiful journals, coloured pens, glitter-guns and all the sundry art and craft material flooding the market these days. As Sumita Thapar, 51, who works as a media and communication consultant in the development sector in Lucknow, says “I truly believe that the tools we use to write influence what we write."

Very few of us are gifted with the kind of discipline or inclination to write daily. To give autonomy, let the kids can decide a practical frequency. It needs to be something to look forward to, and not become an unwelcome chore. Once you have negotiated the frequency, the rest becomes easy.

For many diary enthusiasts, it began with Anne Frank’s Diary—reading such famous diaries is one way to start, another way could be for parents to share their childhood diaries. Then let the children pick a time—it could be at the beginning of the day or the end. If possible, the parents too can join and make it a family activity. The kids can write about literally whatever they want to. Chryselle D’Silva Dias gave her son a diary with prompts. She finds it especially helpful as “it makes him think about things he wouldn’t otherwise."

The ‘prompt diaries’ come with topics to give children interesting ideas, and also to overcome the first hurdle of the blank page staring at them. If your kid is artistically inclined, they can illustrate their writing. Do remember that your role is only of a guide if they need suggestions. 

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Secret Diaries?

 By all means. If they want to share, good, if they don’t, like many older children, you have to respect that too. And overcome that intense desire to snoop. Quite often, though, a child might want to share. And then the journal becomes that powerful bonding tool when they communicate with clarity about how they feel about different things.

So, what should they write about? To describe their day is always a good starting point. What happened in school? In the pool? In the playground? Their worries, hopes, fears—all have a place. Years later when they read these journals, they will bring a smile to their faces. While it’s completely fine if they write about the day’s details, older kids would probably enjoy writing about feelings, and yes, venting.  

Children often have trouble articulating or expressing feelings which can result in undesirable behaviour or the other extreme of bottling-up of emotions. Journaling gives them an outlet without a fear of judgement. Writing helps children process, express and communicate complex emotions. Simple prompts like ‘what happened and how did it make you feel’ could be the starting points. 

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One small rule, which when implemented on my own undergrad students, seemed to make a great impact. It was the inclusion of ‘What Went Well’ or WWW with every diary entry. The students were required to write about three things which went well every day. While there were moans about nothing going well, eventually every student was able to find three things which went well every day. Surprising? Not really. Because they could include any and everything from the joys of waking up early or sleeping in (to each their own!), smelling the coffee, seeing a pretty flower, to running into an old friend. Our days have these tiny highs, journaling gives us the motive to seek and savor them. Sridevi Datta’s younger son started keeping a diary when he saw his mother journaling and calls his a ‘gratitude journaling’. What better way to build a life-long tradition of gratitude? There are indeed a whole lot of good reasons to get a child start a diary, a much better tool than handing them an addictive device any day.

Madhumita Gupta is an independent writer.