coaching, reading and writing skills, story writing

Writing stage two: The writer stays in control.

The writing Roles of ‘writer’ and ‘editor’ help keep your writer in control of their writing. 


hainvg fun learning

Dear families.

Many of us have a tendency to believe that we know more than our children…and often we are right, but in the case of writing stories I can’t emphasize enough the importance of NOT taking over your child’s writing because you believe that you have better ideas! Before you know it, you will be writing for them, or dictating what they should write. How does that help them find their own writer’s voice?

When the child is writing a story, their role is that of ‘The Writer’ and so they must keep control of their writing, which includes choice about what and how they write.

You are ‘The Editor’. You are often the expert about spelling and grammar and can help them with proofreading their work.

Another important role as ‘The Editor’ is to motivate them by offering writing suggestions, but you do not decide or pressure them about what they will write so please remember to suggest possible plots and scenarios and characters in a way that they do not feel pressured to accept them.

Only make suggestions relevant to them. People write more expressively and in more detail about what they know about. They can base adventure stories and fantasy on scenarios and with people they know well. The best stories are based around skills the writer has, such as riding a scooter or skate board or bike, and they are set in areas they know well, and with characters based on people they know. For example, my students have written about creatures from outer space but set the landing of their space-craft in their town. They have written about a young spy based on themselves and friends, and  using events happening at school or at their home. They have written about fairies living in a piece of wilderness, or by a stream, or in a garden they know well. They went snorkeling and then wrote about a fantasy world under the sea.

In order that  I don’t take over the writing I pause in between suggestions, to give them a moment to think whether that idea would work for them. After offering two or three suggestions I often pause again to discuss why they don’t like those ideas, or do like them but have reservations about them. Then I can make suggestions closer to what they want. If they don’t like any of my ideas I stop discussing writing until the next suitable coaching time. Remember…no pressure!

When ideas start flowing write them down immediately. Flow charts and mind-maps as well as lists are useful ways to get ideas down onto paper. If your child is not at all keen to write, you can write story ideas down as they tell you. The time spent thinking up ideas and then ordering these ideas is valuable and often underestimated. Successful adult writers often spend a lot of time thinking before they write.

A simple way I often use with writers is to have a piece of paper folded width-ways into three parts which you head up with “Beginning, Middle, and End”, then ask them to write down very briefly what happens. I always lean heavily on the question starters ‘what, where, when, who, why, and how.

Under the Beginning you can ask them to describe where and when the story takes place and who is in it. For example, Where are you? When is this happening? What can we see? What can we hear? Who is with you? How old are you in the story? The beginning is where the writer introduces their character(s), describes the background the character(s) are moving around in, and may even jump right into the middle of the difficulties those in the story are experiencing What is happening? What do you do?

The main action happens in the Middle so “What happens next? What terrible or exciting, or weird thing happens now? What trouble do they get into? How do they solve that problem? are good questions to ask. This is where the hero(es) solve a crime or mystery or have an adventure or series of adventures where they overcome difficulties.

Endings can be difficult if not thought through in the planning stages, and a satisfying ending is very important when you are telling a story. How can we end it? and What will happen at the end? are useful questions to ask.

The good thing is that this planning process can be on-going, and indeed the first ideas can be discounted and radically changed at times as the characters develop and change and as twists and turns of the plot reveal themselves. Get the writer to quickly jot down new ideas on their planning page as they occur.

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coaching, homework, learning and remembering, resilient children

How does your child perceive their own intelligence?

Intelligence: Does your child believe that it is fixed at birth or that it is something that can grow?

negotiating homework with your teen

Carol Dweck, a leading researcher in the field of motivation, has found that children hold either a fixed mindset or a growth mindset when they think about their own and others intelligence. Have you heard your child say, “Oh she is just smarter than me,” or “I’m dumber than them”? Those with a fixed mindset believe that their basic talents and abilities are decided at birth and that they have a certain amount of intelligence or talent, and that’s that and can’t be changed. This is the mindset that saps children’s motivation and stunts their mind because they don’t see the point in persisting in learning things that they find difficult.

In contrast, those who have a growth mindset believe that their most basic talents and abilities can be developed through practice, learning and support from others. They tend to work harder and ask for help. They are more likely to say, “I’m going to practise that until I get it,” or “I don’t get this and can you help me?”They understand that even a genius like Einstein needed to put in years and years of dedicated study to make his discoveries. They are not afraid of using trial and error to figure something out and they often get a buzz out of new challenges.

Any learning develops new pathways in the brain. However, what is interesting is that our children might indeed believe that if they practise hard they can continue to develop skills in many games and sports such as skateboarding, basketball, and computer and board games, but not believe that a similar amount of effort and good coaching will mean they can also develop skills in areas such as Maths, Science, and English. However, if you believe that any learning is growing the brain’s pathways, you can convince your children that effort and good learning strategies will mean that they can also learn academic subjects that they thought were impossible to master.

Professor Carol Dweck  makes the point that many of us who think we’re doing the right thing by our children when we tell them they’re little geniuses and champions may be actually hindering more than helping them. It is better to praise them for the determination, effort, and clever strategies they are using when they are mastering new skills.

Here’s why:

1. Kids with a fixed mindset only care about looking smart and therefore avoid challenging learning tasks. Kids with a growth mindset and who therefore don’t have anything to prove, tackle challenging learning tasks with gusto.

2. Kids with a fixed mindset believe if you have to make an effort it means you’re not smart. Kids with a growth mindset understand that hard work and practice make you smarter.

3. Kids with a fixed mindset regard setbacks as failings. Kids with a growth mindset regard setbacks as a natural part of learning.

Dweck says these results explain why so many children with a fixed mindset give up, run away, and become defensive. She says that when we see our children acting bored, or acting out, or blaming the teacher, it’s often because they are trying to hide the fixed mindset fear of not looking smart. When we praise intelligence  we tend to create a fixed mindset in our children but if we praise process (effort, strategies, focus and persistence) we are more likely to create a growth mindset in them.

Ways to help your child believe they can grow their intelligence

The good news is it is possible to teach a growth mindset to our children. We can help them realise that every time they push out of their comfort zone and learn something difficult and new, they grow new neural connections. I know how excited and empowered I felt when I realised that the brain can be developed just like a muscle!

Carol Dweck believes that it is a basic human right for children to live in environments that help them grow their abilities and fulfill their potential. The manual Coaching your children to be excellent students   and my posts have straightforward tips which help you develop such a learning environment at home so that your children will believe in themselves as students and grow their own ability to learn.

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coaching, goal-setting, homework, teens, Working with teens

Helping your teen study when they are non-compliant: What to look out for.

Goals help keep your teen steady and strong when life is difficult.

planning to succeed




Study goals are most easily achieved by taking small steps most days, not by cramming in lots of information just before exams. At this stage of their life they experience rapid growth spurts and sudden surges of hormones. There are often dramas, if not with your young adult then with their friends. Many young adults feel as though they are on an emotional roller-coaster. Although of course there are times they need to take breaks when there is a major event in their lives or in your family’s life, goals will still help them focus on their study again as soon as possible.

Particularly as young adults they can often doubt their ability to achieve goals they want and might feel easily defeated when there are difficulties. They might also hear from some of their friends that study is not really that important. They might become side-tracked by friends into behaviours not conducive to good study habits such as on-line games and drinking and drugs.  (As a side-issue, Gaming Disorder has become a “Condition for Further Study” in the DSM-5(APA 2013).  It is not yet an “official” disorder, but a condition on which the American Psychiatric Association request additional research). Our role as their support is to help them stay calm, focused, and optimistic, by developing goals with them, and then the steady study routines and consequences useful to achieving those goals.

I aim to never give up reaching for the goals students want so that they can continue reaching for them too. Once a teen makes an agreement with me, I expect them to honour their agreements. When study agreements aren’t kept, I expect them to explain why they didn’t keep them. If it seems useful, we then discuss whether they want to change their goals and/or the agreement. I then expect them to explain what they will do to keep the agreement we have so that they can achieve the goals they want.

Teens might suffer from unhelpful study attitudes, poor study skills, and low self-belief In my experience it can sometimes take weeks before they fully honour our coaching agreement, especially those who have not had to be responsible for their actions yet. I aim to steadfastly remain as firm and consistently helpful and respectful as I can be, so they will take responsibility for their own learning and will reach the goals we decided on together.

Does your teen show non-compliance and how does that appear? Students are usually non-compliant when they have not yet taken responsibility for their learning. Sometimes they might actively fight your decisions by arguing, shouting, and refusing. Although those behaviours might shock and upset you, it can be easier to communicate with young adults who are directly and openly fighting with you.

If your teen does not believe that they have the power to actively and openly fight you, they will often be non-compliant in quieter and more passive ways that are often quite difficult to notice. They might talk with you only when necessary, or do what they want to do when you are not looking, or unconsciously sabotage agreements between you while seeming to agree with you. Unconscious sabotage is the hardest to pinpoint and very common in teens and in children. Such sabotage can include when they forget information, appointments, or agreements, lose equipment and books, seem unable to do a simple task set them that they could do previously, often feel sick or tired when it is time to work, seem unable to concentrate, sulk and not talk with you except when they need to, talk incessantly about unrelated matters or pick fights with you about unrelated issues so that you get sidetracked. If your teen has some sort of related underlying condition, they might also behave in some of those ways, but even then I have found that those behaviours can often be minimised when they take full responsibility for their own learning and you both work to find ways that they can learn more easily.

You might not realise at first that many of these behaviours are non-compliant ones and your young adult might not believe that those behaviours are either. Perhaps for example both of you believe that they are naturally forgetful or not able to concentrate well or are often tired. Notice however that your young adult might not forget information they find important and want to remember, that they can be alert, energised and ready for activities they like, and that they can concentrate for hours to master a skill they enjoy doing. It often just depends on their state of mind when sitting down to study. Are they fully on board with getting on with the required work to reach their goals or are they not? It is usually that simple.

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coaching, homework, resilient children, teens, Working with teens

Building resiliency in our children


Resiliency is what we have needed to survive and thrive in the adult world. Resiliency is the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties, and the ability to bounce back in the face of adversity. When you look around at people you know, you may have noticed that adults who have very little resiliency often don’t handle life’s knocks well at all. They often react in one or more of the following ways when they meet hard times. They don’t experience difficulties as learning opportunities or as something they can weather and recover from, they blame others and situations for choices they have made, and they often need a lot of support from others. We all know people who to some degree are unable, or have become unable, to completely stand on their own two feet and make their way in the world. Some of them may continue to create worry and chaos around them and cause pain to others throughout their lives.

We don’t want our children to be adults who have very little resiliency. We want our children to bounce back from difficult situations and to be able to adapt to new  circumstances. In their future, which will be very different from our time as young adults as ours has been from our parents’ time, resilience will continue to be one of the main characteristics defining who thrives in a changing world and who doesn’t.

How are you developing resilience in your children?

Everyone does it differently, but there is always more that we can do. Often we view our children as people who are a little fragile, need lots of protection, and can’t cope without our support. Perhaps there are good and valid reasons for having these opinions. However believing our children are weak and fragile creatures will not help them grow up into resilient children. The most important thing we can change is to strongly believe that our children can develop resilience, and are in fact already more resilient than we might realise.

Before our children can believe in themselves, we have to believe in them.

We need to change how we think about our children because actually when we are completely honest with ourselves, this is a very disrespectful way to think about them, and absolutely does not encourage them to grow resilience. When we change how we view our children we give them the chance to change. For example we could decide to view them as children who are capable of change; who can learn faster than we believed, are more resilient than we realised, and are better problem-solvers than we thought.


  • Sometimes we protect our children so much that they might not get to learn from their mistakes. Give them many opportunities to take manageable risks.
  • Often our children’s time today is planned so that they have little down-time, where they are left to their own devices to play alone, read, do nothing, or dream. Quiet, unplanned time where they are not entertained and have to entertain themselves is respite from their busy world and gives them a chance to recharge.  They might complain at first that they feel bored. Just back off and let them sort themselves.
  • These days children are often socialising and playing on devices, and not out running around and expending energy. Exercise helps us all let go of stresses so that we can continue to handle the challenges in our lives. You can limit social media each day, and create situations where they are often exercising.
  • If our children are afraid to take risks, often crumble when there are difficulties, and  won’t attempt anything that isn’t relatively easy for them to do, they don’t develop resilience. You can help them by showing them how to change difficulties into opportunities. For example, you can show them how to use a negative or sad situation to be grateful for what they have already, .or to learn from.
  • Homework, or regular practice of what is taught in the classroom is useful to develop their resilience at school. If they don’t easily recall basic information such as tables, addition and subtraction facts, and basic spelling and reading rules and words, they will find more complex tasks difficult to master.

The good news is that there is good information on the net on how resilience to a large extent can be learnt. As parents, it is our job to help our children learn the skills necessary to develop resilience. Every year your children grow older provides new opportunities for you to help them grow into the adults you know they have the potential to be.

I’m working in partnership with you the reader and I like to know what you are thinking! Please feel free to write your thoughts, questions, and comments at the bottom of this page. 

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coaching, homework, reading and writing skills

Writing: first understand why they dislike writing, then negotiate.

a reformed reluctant writer
         A keen proud writer 

Writing fluently will remain an important skill our children need to master.

Your child might not be very interested in writing because they have so many other interesting things they would rather do. Many children are much more interested in doing something physical than sitting down to write. Especially when your child finds writing difficult it will come a definite last in the list of important and fun things they want to do that day.

There are a few quite simple things you can do to encourage them to write.The first thing to do is capture their attention and their interest so that they are willing to write with you. Unless you sell them writing in a way that captures their interest they will not be willing to attempt this task they dislike and they will not work willingly with you. You cannot force them to write ever because when a person is not willing to do something, they usually do it very sloppily and hurriedly. Instead first understand exactly what they don’t like about writing.

Listen closely to deeply understand.

The most successful and respectful way to help someone become a writer, and an excellent way to capture their interest, is to listen closely to them to deeply understand how they are thinking and feeling about writing before you ever offer solutions. Take as much time as necessary to deeply understand your child’s position. This might take several talks with them. Remember to never judge what they are saying by minimizing it, mentioning incidents where it was worse for you or their sister, or believing that they are exaggerating or making excuses. Instead just feel deeply interested in what they are saying and keep asking questions that encourage them to open up to you, and help you understand their position even more. As they talk you might notice that you want to offer the ‘helpful’ solutions that pop into your head. they might not be the right solutions for your child, or perhaps not the right solutions to offer just yet. In fact your child will feel that you have stopped listening to them and that you are trying to just fix the problem quickly, as perhaps you often have in the past, if you offer them solutions as they are explaining their dislike of writing. This time do it differently and take lots of time to understand their position.

Problem-solve with them, not for them, by TENTATIVELY suggesting solutions.

When you are both satisfied that you have fully understood their thoughts and feelings around writing, other quite exciting and useful solutions often pop up, many of them quite different from what you would have first suggested. Feel free to suggest them tentatively as possible solutions, watching your child for their reactions. You might have decided that it is non-negotiable that they will be writing regularly at home, and your child most probably has realised that themselves. However when, where, and how that happens, and what they write about are all negotiable.

Possible solutions I often offer students when we will be writing  include:

  • You will only write about what you want to write about and my job as your editor is to help you discover what that is.
  • I will only let you write for 10 minutes.
  • Don’t worry about the spelling. Just write your ideas down. We will sort the spelling later.
  • Don’t worry about your handwriting. Good writing is all about the ideas not how tidy your writing looks.
  • Let’s get the writing over and done with first then do something that you like more.
  • I will share-write with you too if you like. I think that would be fun! We could write a story together.

Here are some more ideas on ways to respectfully discuss writing with your child.

I’m working in partnership with you the reader and I like to know what you are thinking! Please feel free to write your thoughts, questions, and comments at the bottom of this page. 

Follow me if you like this post and want to know more about how you can develop strengths in your child with minimum fuss and effort. You won’t be flooded with emails. I only write every week or so. 

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coaching, reading and writing skills

Handwriting – How your child can write more easily

The days of boring old handwriting drills are gone.

In the place of drills teachers give a series of short lessons on how to hold the pencil and correctly write letters and numbers, and then they correct students’ hand-grip and writing direction incidentally as they walk around the room. How your child holds their pencil and form their letters is still taught, but often not as consistently as in the past with the boring old drills, and so many children may not  practice  the correct grip enough to master it.

hand writing - wrong hand gripThis has meant that many children and adults now find handwriting much more difficult and tiring because they are holding their pencil incorrectly and are writing some letters and numbers using the wrong direction. Watch children and young adults as they write, and notice their hand-grip. Many are gripping pens with more than the first finger and thumb. Sometimes they even use their whole fist as a toddler does. As a result their whole hand moves as they write letters instead of just their fingers.

Many also begin to form letters from the bottom up instead of from the top down, and clock-wise instead of anti clockwise. This also slows their writing down, and when they are younger, it makes it more difficult to remember how to form some letters. For example they often confuse the letters ‘b’ and ‘d’ because they form those letters in similar ways. The correct way to form the letter ‘b’ is to write the ‘b’ from the top down forming the stem, then up half-way and clockwise around forming the base (down, up, and around), whereas with the ‘d’ you begin half-way between the line and continue anti-clockwise to form the round base, then move up and down (around, up, and down).

Why do we need to help our child hold their pen or pencil correctly?

The pencil grip, or the way they hold a pen or pencil, will either help or hinder them when they write, both now and as adults. With the growth of i-pads and other devices in schools and workplaces, it might seem that being able to skillfully write by hand might become a thing of the past. Perhaps so. I hope not. There is research to show that handwriting facts helps us learn and remember
and will continue to be an important skill even as our children use more technology to communicate.

handwriting gripWhen your child holds the pen correctly they write faster and so much more easily!

The correct pencil-grip makes writing easier and faster. When we use the correct pencil grip we can write for longer periods of time smoothly and easily. If your child has difficulty holding the pencil correctly you can usually buy a pencil grip in stationary shops that slides onto the pencil and gives your child a larger surface to grip onto.

Follow these instructions for the correct hand grip:

teach your child how to hand writeThe hand uses the thumb and 1st finger to hold firmly but not too tightly onto opposite sides of the pencil. Then the 2nd finger bends under the pencil to form a support so that the pen can sit balanced lightly and securely on that finger. This classical grip allows your fingers to move freely when writing instead of the whole hand. Instead, your hand is still and resting lightly on the paper as your fingers move the pencil around to write all or most of a word. Your hand only moves when it slides along between words or parts of words to help the fingers write freely.


I’m working in partnership with you the reader and I like to know what you are thinking! Please feel free to write your thoughts, questions, and comments at the bottom of this page. 

Follow me if you like this post and want to know more about how you can develop strengths in your child with minimum fuss and effort. You won’t be flooded with emails. I only write every week or so. 

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coaching, homework, reading and writing skills, Uncategorized

What if your child can’t read or write well….is that it?

How to Coach Your Children to be Excellent Students m
How to Coach Your Children to be Excellent Students

A few weeks ago I met a young man in his twenties who in the course of our conversation disclosed what exactly his mother had done to help him at home  when he was young and having great difficulty learning to read and write. What she did gave him the opportunity to fulfill more of his potential than is usual for poor readers and writers. It enabled him to complete tertiary study, and find interesting work that required good reading and writing skills as well as problem-solving skills, flexibility, lateral thinking, and communication skills. He mentioned that he still found reading aloud difficult when one of his bosses was listening, because it made him anxious, but otherwise not; and that he doesn’t have any difficulty understanding the deeper meanings of text now, or writing reports.

I was very impressed by this young man. He was currently working with teens who could not read, write, or do maths well; and he showed great empathy and concern when talking about them. I also watched him engage with the young men around us, and he was warm and fun. He is exactly the sort of person you would want working with your young teen if they needed mentoring, and he was involved in many community activities, and obviously a thoughtful and hard-working man. The sort of person many employers yearn for. His mother must be so proud of him!

As this young man’s mother must have done, I encourage you to continue working with your child at home no matter what others think, what the school is currently doing to help them, and even whether your child wants you to help them. This year I have worked with several students who took a long time to realise that if they applied a little effort, and regularly practised the strategies I coached them in at home with their parents, they could master skills they had thought impossible to learn. For quite some time these particular students were not keen to work with me, and for much of the time I coached them, they were certainly not grateful or willing to learn with their parents.

writing a book
One of my excellent writers

However, we never gave up, and the penny eventually dropped for them. They realised that we were not going to stop working with them and that we continued to believe in their ability to learn, no matter how poorly they behaved. At about the same time they began to notice that they were actually enjoying doing some of the reading, writing, or maths, because the work had become easier and so much more interesting. As they began to comply with their parents and complete regular coaching sessions at home, the parents, the child, and I all noticed a rapid improvement in how fast they learned new skills. They also became less anxious, demanding, controlling and reluctant when their parents and I coached them. Instead they became keen, confident, and self-motivated students who worked willingly and with deep concentration to master skills they now wanted as badly as we had wanted those skills for them. They became a pleasure to coach!

Every parent wants their child to achieve to the limits of their ability…wherever that is. That limit has to be found, then pushed, to see if it is actually the limit to what can be achieved. I have found that we often set limits much too low for ourselves and for our children, and that the actual limits can be much further away than first seems possible.

The young man I had met a few weeks ago was lucky enough to have a mother who believed that although he had Dyslexia, which made reading and writing more difficult for him, he still could and would learn to read and write well.  She didn’t stop at just believing in his abilities though. She worked regularly and persistently with him as long as he needed her too. She read aloud to him for as long as he needed her to so that he would have the opportunity to understand and use all the ideas and vocabulary his peers were currently learning, and she helped him develop his reading and writing skills until he could read and write easily for himself.

Plan to succeed.  As that wonderful mother of that out-standing young man did, and all the other persistent parents do whom I have worked with and continue to work with right now, create ambitious and exciting goals for your child, then keep them in sight, and each week take small steps towards those  goals. Each step counts.

I’m working in partnership with you the reader and I like to know what you are thinking! Please feel free to write your thoughts, questions, and comments at the bottom of this page. 

Follow me if you like this post and want to know more about how you can develop strengths in your child with minimum fuss and effort. You won’t be flooded with emails. I only write every week or so. 

I like to share my coaching ideas with as many people as possible, so please Tweet this post or follow me on

Twitter; and share this post and the website with other like-minded families.