The Gift of a Diary

A personal diary allows kids to express themselves.

The Gift of a Diary

Photo: Gerri Photography

 

When I was 12 years old, I received one of my most memorable Christmas presents. Small and inexpensive, the white, gold-trimmed book had the words “Five-Year Diary” printed on the cover. I immediately wrote my name in my neatest handwriting on the first page where it said, “Property of.”  I kept a diary faithfully for about six years, then off and on throughout my life.

When I read the entries now I can barely keep a straight face – things that seemed so important to me back then are now quite funny – a hair permanent gone wrong, obsession with what to wear, endless comments about boys – all the mundane details of my life right there in black and white. But there is also the not so mundane. I had forgotten about how frequently I used to visit my grandparents, whom I now realize had a major influence on my life.

Even though I didn’t write much about my feelings, a diary or journal can be a place for kids to record not only their thoughts but also their emotions. This can help them to release stress in an appropriate way. For instance, rather than sounding off to someone’s face, or on facebook, children can vent their feelings safely in a journal. During difficult times, writing in a journal can also help a child process what is happening and help them work through it – a first love, first time away from home, or the death of a grandparent.

Sometimes what is happening in kids’ lives has such an impact on them that they feel compelled to write about it spontaneously. When my son Peter was in the hospital with a ruptured appendix, he asked me for a pen and paper and said, “Mom, I’m going to write down everything that’s happened so I won’t forget. And it’s going to be PRIVATE.”

Start small

To ease your child into keeping a journal or diary, you might suggest that he or she try it for a short period of time, such as during a family vacation or at camp. Depending on the experience, you can propose that she continue it through the year. If a day or two is missed, it doesn’t matter – she can 

either fill it in later, or just skip those days. The important thing is to keep writing.

It’s best for the child to set aside a certain time every day, such as after school or before bed, so that writing becomes a habit, much like brushing teeth or having a shower.
You can surprise your child with a diary as a gift, or you can go with him to the dollar or department 
store to select his favourite.

Record life stories

With instant messaging and facebook, kids spend a lot of time in the virtual world talking about their day-to-day lives. But if they have a desire to keep a more permanent and private record, writing in a book may be preferable. A journal also has the advantage of being portable, so that it can be taken to bed, to school or to camp.

To inspire him in his efforts, you might want to introduce your child to some published diaries, both fiction and non-fiction. The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank gives readers a glimpse into the life of this courageous girl who lived in a hidden apartment during the Nazi occupation of Amsterdam. The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole by Sue Townsend is a humorous fictional account of a teenaged boy’s life in England and how he copes amidst his chaotic family life. Reading the works of others can help young people see the value of documenting their own lives.

Don’t snoop!

A diary is a private place, a receptacle for your child’s innermost thoughts, so even if it doesn’t have a key, respect his personal space and don’t peak! Just remind yourself how you would have felt at that age if your parents had known everything that was going on in your life.

When kids look back on their writing in later years, they will have a snapshot of themselves when they were young – an amazing gift to their adult selves.

Author: Joanne Culley

Joanne Culley is a writer and documentary producer with two sons; joanne.culley@sympatico.ca or www.joanneculleymediaproductions.com.

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