Journaling is usually thought of as a solitary activity. After all, who wants to share their innermost thoughts, worries, fears, and dreams with others? But Rachel Robertson, author of three journals for military family members, says journaling can actually be a communal activity rather than a solo one.
“You can be respectful of boundaries and that [everyone] gets to have emotions and things they don’t want to share,” Rachel says. “But you can discuss the positive things you’ve written about with one another, and that can train your brain to look for more positive.”
This can be an important exercise for parents to do with children, especially if the child may be reluctant to journal at first. According to Rachel, the best way to encourage children with an aversion to the activity is to model the behavior the parent would like to see.
“If a parent is doing it, kids will follow suit,” she says. “In any parenting situation, I advise parents to narrate their own thinking. Kids can’t learn from you if it’s just happening in your head.”
For example, a parent can say something like, “I’m struggling with this emotion. I’m going to sit down and journal about it. Do you want to sit with me?” By inviting their children to be a part of the process of journaling and expressing some thoughts out loud, parents can show children the benefits of journaling without telling them to do it.
Make a Judgement-Free Zone
It’s important for children to feel safe expressing (or not expressing) some of their emotions from their journal. But for them to feel safe, parents need to put the emphasis on the act of journaling—not the outcome of the journaling, says Rachel.
“Stop focusing on a child’s outcome. Focus on the improvement, effort, and process,” she says.
The more a child—or an adult, for that matter—journals, the more likely they may be to open up about those emotions, because they’ve had a chance to gain a bit of control over the way they are feeling.
“Processing through writing is very beneficial. We know the benefits of mindfulness and it’s the same thing,” Rachel says. “Get out of your head and write it down. One of the most important skills we can teach children is to recognize and analyze their own emotions.”
Build a Routine
Whether the routine is bedtime stories or Sunday pancakes, Rachel says the best way to incorporate journaling discussions is to build it into a routine.
“Whatever routines and rituals are already present, just build it in. Eventually it just becomes something you do,” she says. “You can be drawing versus writing. Anything that helps. Just build a daily or weekly habit.”
The time in-between family sessions can be just as important as the time in them, though. As children are learning to process their emotions, they need encouragement, space, and time, says Rachel.
An author and educator focused on child development, Rachel Robertson combined her professional training and personal experience supporting herself and her two children through her husband’s military deployments to create a series of journals for families during deployment. All of her journals have been published by Elva Resa Publishing.
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