Regardless of age, a child experiencing emotional stress can find it difficult to discuss her feelings with an adult, even a parent. That’s why many mental health experts advocate having your child keep a journal – a safe and private place to let those emotions out.
While we typically think of journals (or diaries as they used to be called) as the province of pre-teens and adolescents, even very young children can keep a journal, even if its contents consist primarily of doodles, scribbles or stick figures.
A 2012 study from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that one in every seven kids between the ages of 2 and 8 in this country has either a mental, behavioral, or developmental disorder. In older kids, the number climbs to one in five. Many of these children would benefit greatly from professional treatment, yet barriers to treatment are a very real problem.
Journaling certainly doesn’t supplant treatment, but it can provide benefits. “Children do not always know how to talk about what they’re feeling. Sometimes they’re unsure of what they’re feeling, especially in the wake of trauma, when things are unclear and don’t make much sense,” Jacqui Blue, a hypnotherapist in California who specializes in trauma told the Washington Post.
Whether your child is struggling with a mental health issue or not, establishing the habit of keeping a journal at a young age will benefit her through her adolescence, and likely beyond.
For children seven or younger, a journal might be more of a scrapbook. You can work with your child to identify meaningful images in magazines or online. Let he cut out the images and make collages in the pages of her journal, which at this age might be a large-size artist’s sketch book. Some pages can also be used for drawing or even scribbling. The idea is to let your child’s mood and emotions in the moment dictate how to approach the journal.
Children just beginning to write – second grade and beyond – might need a prompt to get them to start writing a journal entry. If your child wants to share what she has written with you, that’s fine. But do not insist on reading her entries.
With proper encouragement keeping a journal will become a healthy habit. Before long, your child will be pulling her journal off the shelf unprompted.