16

Our eight year old daughter writes well for her age, and has produced some really spectacular pieces in class. She's not terribly interested in writing for fun at home, though. When she does, what she puts down is often pretty awful, even by the standards of an 8 year old.

Over the weekend she spent some time putting a poem together and she's really pleased with it, and proud of what she's done. Today she wanted to take it into class and show her peers and teacher, but honestly, a lot of it is drivel.

I put her off by saying that some of it is very good (which is true) but other bits could use some more work. She's not going to let it drop, though: she wants to know which bits need work, and why.

The truth is that most of it would benefit from rewriting, but I don't feel I can tell her that, nor would I want to squash her enthusiasm. She's very easily deflated and prone to taking even gentle criticism very harshly. But it's terribly frustrating: we know she can write so well for her age, but she has no concept of self-criticism, so often doesn't.

While I've given a specific example here, this is a topic I've started to struggle with as my kids have grown up. With little ones we've offered unreserved praise for all their efforts. But at what age is it reasonable to expect children to start to take critical comments constructively, and to start being a little self-critical about what they produce? How can parents, generally, encourage this process, especially with kids who don't tend to take it well?

  • 1
    "at what age is it reasonable to expect children to start to take critical comments constructively"? for some of us, never. the question is whether you mean it constructively, and its never too early for that – rbp Sep 30 '14 at 16:49
  • I find that the best way to deal with people who are unable to take criticism is to start by pointing out what is right and to let them take the decisions by only suggesting. i.e. "I read through your poem, and I really liked it I think you improved much on parts A, B and C. I also noticed that you put alot of effort into D. However, do not take this personally because I really want us to work together for you to write the best poem you can, but reading through your poem made me think that it would be a cool idea to do E, what would you like to do about it ?" – BlueTrin Oct 1 '14 at 11:11
27

If she's asking you which bits need work and why, that's a sign she's open to criticism, and that she trusts you to provide it.

The thing about criticizing creative work is you want to be as specific as possible. "This part needs rewriting" is a completely useless criticism. If she knew how to rewrite it better, chances are she would have already done it. Be specific. "This part doesn't seem to fit very well with the rest of the poem. Were you having trouble coming up with a rhyme that fit the story?"

The other benefit to being specific is by taking it one small part at a time, you can tell when it is getting to be too much for her.

You want to ask questions that lead her to see the problems for herself, rather than handing down pronouncements of error. "Tell me about this part. What's different about it compared to this other part?"

The ability to self-criticize comes with lots and lots of reading other people's work. Your daughter simply doesn't have that experience yet. One way to help her get it faster would be to steer her in the direction of great writing that's similar in style to what she wrote. "Your poem's style reminds me a little of Edgar Allen Poe's The Bells. I have a book of his poems around here somewhere if you want to read it." She will feel flattered by the comparison, but also will be able to see better for herself how her own writing is lacking.

Keep in mind that people engage in creative endeavors for a variety of reasons. Ask your daughter why she wrote this poem. The ability to express herself without being confined by the rules is likely a big part of her motivation. People need that sometimes in order to handle the rules. Schools do plenty of formal criticism. You don't need to worry about if you're doing that enough at home. Occasionally writing something creative but messy won't hurt her ability to write more formally and cleanly. In fact, quite the opposite.

  • I'm slightly worried you're suggesting Edgar Allen Poe to a 8 year old ;P – Anubian Noob Jul 16 '15 at 20:52
19

I think perhaps you should re-assess what your expectations should be for an 8 year old both in writing quality and in capacity for taking criticism. I know few, if any 8 year olds who can take criticism in the way some adults can, and fewer still who have any self-criticism at all.

There can be a significant difference in quality between what kids produce in a structured environment compared to when they are on their own, especially when they are just learning creative writing. On their own 8 year olds are going to produce drivel.

Strong criticism can be very discouraging for a young person, so make it mild, and encourage her to write more if she enjoys it no matter what you think about it. Find something positive to say about it, and find a constructive and light-handed way of talking about what you don't. Practice makes perfect, and good writing does take practice. Encourage her to share her writing with her friends - remember it may be drivel to you but they could love it.

As for self-editing this will come in time as she practices. Foster an environment of constructive criticism that goes both ways. Self-critique yourself and ask her to critique you. Work on developing a rapport, a trust so she has confidence that she can come to you. If you go in guns blazing you could discourage her from writing and/or make sure she never shows you what she's written ever again.

  • 3
    "I think perhaps you should re-assess what your expectations should be for an 8 year old both in writing quality and in capacity for taking criticism." So you're taking an age and inferring reasonable expectations based on that? Expecting somebody to be "normal" against a pretty arbitrary (and frankly, quite insulting to some) measurement like age just threatens those who desire more - and everybody should. The goal isn't to meet expectations, the goal is to be improved. It isn't impossible to teach an 8-year-old to take criticism well, and not trying to can slow down their mental growth. – bjb568 Sep 29 '14 at 21:02
  • 2
    Especially from the description of a good writer, this girl may very well have an above-average (against age) capability of learning which should not be stunted by neglecting learning above-average (against age) concepts and material. After all, if you aren't above average in some subjects, you'll be below average overall. – bjb568 Sep 29 '14 at 21:06
  • 3
    +1 I think it's insane to bother someone so young about anything like this. They won't remember anything but the stupidly critical attitude. – d'alar'cop Sep 30 '14 at 8:12
  • 2
    @d'alar'cop After that comment I feel the need to point out that I have not criticized her work, for all the good reasons cited. I am looking for a way to help her improve things while maintaining a positive, encouraging attitude. – Bob Tway Sep 30 '14 at 10:26
  • @bjb568 This is the problem. The school says she's writing at the expected standard of an 11-year old. But she doesn't have the more mature attitude toward the work that would exist at that age. So I want to try and help her to learn it in a supportive way. – Bob Tway Sep 30 '14 at 10:28
4

Maybe you should ask her teacher how she takes criticism in the classroom, if you can find a teacher that gives the student feedback these days.

Personally I like to ask questions:

"Do you think it would sound better if you did ........ "

or

"What if we put that sentence over here, read that do you like how that sounds? "

Also try to get her asking the questions, "Do you think you could something better in this part?" Get the critical thinking parts going.

Another thing, probably better yet, you could write something with her, something small and very very fun, favorite topic. And have her critique your writing, make some elementary errors.

Try putting the ball in their court, your not always going to get an answer you like but you may learn about how your child thinks and perceives things, and if you get a childish answer, remember shes still just a child!

As for what age to really hammer down? Middle School age.

3

I agree with all the answers above, and I just wanted to amplify the point that this issue has almost nothing with your daughter, or poetry, or writing or even children in general.

All people of all ages when they are in the early stages of attempting to master some new task are looking - nay, craving - positive reinforcement, and they don't really care if it's genuine or not. They want to be told, repeatedly, that yes, they are on the right track.

For most process-based tasks, the core skills and mastery can be objectively assessed and they don't need a lot of outside reinforcement. You don't have to tell a kid they've figured out how to ride a bike; trust me, they know.

But for tasks with a large component of subjectivity, such as writing or dancing - or to choose an adult-oriented topic, leadership - the need for outside reinforcement in the early stages of development is extremely high. This is of course problematic because the person doing the task has already made up their mind about the outcome - they don't want criticism, they want praise and affirmation.

The recommended solution for these sorts of tasks like leadership (and writing and art) is to focus on the process and not the outcome. I won't give a whole seminar on leadership, and there are lots of formal process methodologies out there for all kinds of tasks, but here are some high-level "process-y" things to look at with your daughter:

  • Acquiring Information i.e. reading poetry, new vocabulary, learning about poetry (meter, slant rhymes, metaphors, etc.), learning how other poets wrote
  • Considering Alternatives i.e. pick out a line you don't like and ask her to try to come up with 5 different lines to replace it, ask her how would the poem change if she couldn't use verbs, what if it was told in third person, etc.
  • Internal Consistency i.e. diction, tone, emotional content
  • Why/Why Not i.e. questions about the decisions she made in the poem, for her particularly words and rhymes

The best artists and leaders have tried and true, battle-tested processes and rubrics they use to produce great works and great decisions.

1

I remember my experience of when I was having writing classes on the school pretty well.

When the teacher made critics to my text, it was often impossible to turn the critics into something practical for my text. Frustration then emerged on me, and I hated writing.

Text writing, I believe, is one of the fields where critics are most often useless for making yourself better at it.

On the year of 2003, I had to prepare to the admittance exam of an elite university. I have tried for two years to get better at it, but I just gave up.

Then, the teacher started putting the best texts in a board so that everybody could see it.

It took me exactly ONE reading of a best text to get an immediate feeling of how a good text should be. Since then, all tests that I wrote became incredibly better!

So, if you want to inspire your kid, you should encourage her to read best-seller books on the topic that she writes, or taking a time together to find writers that inspires her. Having an example of what is good is very useful, while only hearing critics is worst than useless.

There is another community in Stack Exchange called writing which might be helpful for you too.

Additionaly, It could be that your kid is still developing her style, and if you interfere too much, the person will get stagned.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.