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Help! Writing is torture for my third-grader

By Debra Collins, Family therapist


I have a very intelligent third grader. He takes an advanced curriculum and does very well on his tests. However, my husband and I do most of the organizing for him, review his assignments and ensure his work is done. The math, science and reading doesn't seem to be so bad. The writing however is torture. He has reward charts and consequences for his writing being completed, and we are for at least now requiring he complete a minimum of two paragraphs in school. He is the first of three and is wearing us down.

What can we do to help him? How much can he help himself? It is almost like he has no work ethic. How much should we push him?


I would like to start with your statement, "It is almost like he has no work ethic." Your son is doing well in math, science, reading and testing. Since you mention that he works within an "advanced curriculum," I'm assuming that he performs above grade level. It is important to look at his overall accomplishments.

A third-grader is just learning how to put his thoughts together in order to construct a simple paragraph. Things such as topic sentences, sequence of events, punctuation and so forth, are more difficult when you have to write them yourself. Writing is a complex series of events, and the blank page can be daunting.

His teacher may know if he needs help with concepts, or if he just needs more experience at writing. A child may not develop at the same rate in all areas. Some tasks just need the benefit of time and practice before they are integrated.

I have worked with many children where the real problem was writing in cursive. Their fine motor skills were delayed and by the time they struggled to physically write, they had lost their train of thought. His teacher will be able to help you determine that.

Lastly, homework teaches children organization skills and responsibility. Let him do it first and then go over it with him. It is a fine balance between stimulating your child's growth and "pushing." If you are having power struggles, it seems that you are leaning in the direction of pushing, which can result in your son losing his enthusiasm for school.

Debra Collins is a licensed marriage and family therapist and has worked in both primary and middle schools as a school counselor. She gives workshops to teachers and students and offers parenting classes in the San Francisco Bay Area. To learn more, visit her website.

Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.

Comments from readers

"This interested me as I have a 10th grader who hates reading and especially writing. He will read, under duress. But his writing is...nonexistant. 'Did you like this book? Explain why or why not?' His response is 'I didn't like it. Because it was boring.' To him that is enough. To the teacher he needs another 2 pages expanding on his answer. To my son, it's I answered the question and gave a reason. What more does he want? I KNOW what the teacher wants, but how do I convey that need to my son?"