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Should Your Child Keep a Diary?

They aren't just for secrets.

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Diaries aren’t just a place for tweens to confess their crushes. They are also a valuable tool in helping all kids develop emotional and mental well-being. “Writing in a diary gives kids a safe, nonjudgmental place to put their thoughts, and can help kids recovering from surgery or illness, or just support greater happiness,” says Sheryl Ziegler, founder of The Child + Family Therapy Center at Lowry, and mom of three. She offers these tips to help kids get started.

Make it Fun

To make keeping a diary feel less like a chore and more like a creative outlet, encourage kids to draw pictures instead of solely writing. This may be useful for younger kids, or those who struggle with penmanship. Older kids might also create poems or write a song to communicate how they are feeling. “The fewer rules there are around using a diary, the more likely kids will be to use it,” Ziegler says.

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More creative ideas:

• Suggest that your child rate their day on a scale from Outstanding to It Was Hard, this way they can see and discuss their feelings in a measurable way.
• Ask kids to invent an emoji to get their thoughts flowing and offer an entry point for discussion.
• Ask your child to share a story from their day with you. This may spark ideas for journaling.

Choose a Style

Is it necessary for a child to have a diary with a lock? Ziegler says that diaries with locks are great for beginners, especially younger kids and tweens, as they experiment with journaling. “It’s symbolic of a lock on their feelings, a safeguard as they begin,” she explains. What matters most is that the diary feels easy to use and gives them a sense of privacy.”

Help your child select a diary:

• Keep it simple A spiral notebook or a composition book in their favorite color, or with a favorite sports hero on the front, works as well as a more expensive diary.
• Go mobile Some tweens and teens in Ziegler’s practice prefer to use the notes section on their phone because it’s familiar and convenient.
• Try an app Ziegler works with families who use writing apps that send a reminder to journal, which keeps kids going.

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Don’t Peek

What if your mama bear instinct is telling you something isn’t right? Should you peek? Ziegler says to resist peeking and use this as an opportunity to model relationship skills with your child. Instead, you could say, “I’m your parent and I’m wired to you. I have noticed things have been different lately, and I would like to talk to you.”

If your child resists, Ziegler recommends other options for communicating with your child, such as writing notes to each other if they are uncomfortable talking. “It’s easy to ruminate on thoughts and worries, but when they are on paper, kids can see them, compartmentalize them, and assess their journeys.”

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