I was 12 years old, reading my latest story aloud for the camera.
My dad was all too eager to bust out the 30 lb camcorder to capture the event. It was the 80's.
Except, when I went back to watch what he’d recorded, I saw a trembling me with teeth too big for her head, face of freckles and a perm gone bad.
Then, the camera spanning out to record my little brother, Patrick, sitting on the couch, making faces. And my dad’s quiet snickering behind the lens.
Coughing out my words. Diminishing my story.
Many years later, I got up the nerve to share another short fictional piece about a single mom who had to perform CPR on her twin child who was pulled from a river.
My dad’s reaction this time? That couldn’t happen. But, this is the same guy that schooled us on how to spell Heineken when we were in grade school.
I get it, I’m a parent. Kids talk endlessly about things that interest them. I swear I actually said one spring break:
“The first rule of Minecraft is we don’t talk about Minecraft.”
But, when your child comes to you with a crumpled paper and wants to read you something they wrote — Listen.to.them.
With your eyes with your ears.
With your heart and your brain and every cell in your body.
Because they are committing an act of bravery. They are sharing their work.
This is something they thought up in their little minds and developed and wrote down. If they’re very young, they’ll be amazingly impressed with themselves. And so should you.
But, if they’re a bit older, say nine or ten, they are giving you a piece of themselves.
The story may dip into their personal fears or their goals.
The story may parallel their own life and friendships.
Just, Listen. Not only as a reader being entertained by a story but as a parent hearing their child’s inner workings.
This is sacred space. Please resist your parental reflexes.
What not to do:
This is not the time for condescending remarks or accusatory questions or belittlement.
This is not for grammar or spell checking. (My name is Mary Jo and I am a grammar nazi, but not while a child is sharing their first draft.)
Also, this is their story, not yours.
Don’t add to their story or change the main character’s name or the setting.
Don’t correct some little historical fact they may have actually made up. If their Alamo is in heart of Florida, so be it.
And, please — Do Not Censor them. Writing is a form of expression, a way for your young writer to figure things out and explore cause and effect. Don’t run them out to a shrink because there’s a little blood in their story.
It’s okay. They’re testing their own limits. Let them be curious.
What you can do:
Give a Cadillac trunk load of praise and tell them how proud you are of their work, but most importantly, that they were brave enough to share
You have such a creative mind — and I know it’s probably a bit scary to share your creation, so thank you for sharing with me!
Show them you were listening by commenting on specific pieces and even phrases they used
‘The shadows lurched along the path’ — Oh, I loved the way you described the park at night, it felt eerie!
Writers want to be heard and to make connections — show your child they connected with you and your emotions by giving an example of how their story made you feel (or think)*
The way you described how lonely Jimmy felt was so realistic, it made me tear up for him.
‘The rain dripped down the window like tear drops’ — wow! I would never have thought to describe rain that way — amazing!
*If you suspect what they’re sharing with you through their fiction sounds too close to home and concerns you — take note, but do not mention it at the time. Find a way to bring up the topic later, in an unrelated conversation, or they will start to distrust you and will stop sharing their work with you.
Ask open-ended questions
So, it sounds like Marlene was too proud to ask her little sister for help — am I right?
I’ve worked with young writers from Kindergarten age through High School for over ten years and I’ve found these tips help to encourage a young writer’s confidence and trust in their readers.
I guarantee your young writer will be more willing to share their latest masterpiece with you if you follow these guidelines.
Happy reading! 😃