Dear Dr. Linda,

Our son is in ninth grade, but if you looked at his writing, you’d think he was in second. He writes as little as possible and what he does write is illegible.

Lately, when he has to write a paper for school, he won’t even show it to us or tell us about it. We contacted his English teacher because he’s failing English, which we learned when we went online. His teacher told us that he believes our son has a writing disorder called dysgraphia.

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I used to have him rewrite and rewrite before I’d let him hand in anything. There were times when I actually threw his papers in the trash. His teacher thought that was a horrible thing for me to do and said, “That’s probably why he’s so afraid to write.” Do you think he’s right?

Marla

Dear Marla,

It sounds like your son probably does have dysgraphia, which is a writing disorder. The handwriting of people with dysgraphia looks as if a chicken walked across the page—it is illegible, spelling is often atrocious, and punctuation is missing. There may be one period at the end of 10 lines and nothing capitalized.

Some children and teens struggle with dysgraphia every day. Fortunately, for them, computers exist. Unfortunately, though, because many parents have never heard of it, they end up destroying any chance their child has for loving writing. It’s sad.

Parents have the power to foster or destroy their children’s academic success. They don’t often realize it because they’re following their own parents’ rules. It worked for me, they think, so it’ll work for my children. But especially when a child has a reading, writing or math disorder or another brain-related disorder that interferes with learning, it’s a sure bet they’ll be affected. But children with learning disabilities aren’t the only ones. Here are a few other things you can do that will guarantee that any child stops being excited by learning.

How to diminish your child’s natural love of learning:

• When your child doesn’t know how to spell a word, tell them to look it up. Stop. Think about that. Generally speaking, you have to already know how to spell something in order to look it up in a dictionary.

• When your child is writing a paragraph or paper, stop and make him correct misspelled words in the middle of it. The flow of creativity stops when you have to stop in the middle and think about spelling. If you’re writing a report, do you run “Spell Check” before you’re done writing? If he’s writing it by hand, don’t make him stop and look up a word—if you know how to spell it, tell him.

• When your child asks you a question, take as much time as you can to answer it. This is a fine strategy if you actually don’t want your kids to ask you a lot of questions. School-aged kids have already spent a whole day in school listening to their teachers, so if your answer goes on for hours, they’ll stop asking. Most kids would rather lose credit on homework questions than ask Mom or Dad and sit there for hours more. But you’re their greatest allies—if you listen to their questions and provide brief answers that actually help them make the right connections, you’ll be the hero!

• If your child doesn’t do well on a test or assignment, lecture him, ground him, and tell him he’s lazy. Really? You’re his parent, not his parole officer. Your job is to find out why s/he didn’t do well. Maybe your child didn’t understand the subject well enough. Maybe s/he hasn’t learned or developed good study skills. Maybe the test was based on a movie your child didn’t see because he was home sick. I have never met a child who is lazy, but I’ve met plenty who were confused, anxious, hungry or don’t know how to take notes or review for tests.

Marla, I’m sorry to tell you, but your son’s teacher is probably right. Making him write and rewrite when he has a brain-related dysfunction that actually affects, among other things, his ability to manage fine-motor control over a pencil—and throwing what it’s taken him hours to write in the trash—probably has caused him to be afraid to write

As parents, we’re all guilty. Because our parents did it or because we don’t have time, without realizing it, we sometimes destroy our children’s desire to learn. So, next time your child asks for help with a homework assignment, asks a question, or brings home a grade that’s lower than you know his ability to be, stop and think. You’re the most important influence and the first defense.

Dr. Linda