There are many good things Mormons have been encouraged to participate in—from youth programs and service activities to food storage and firesides. One of the activities we’ve been counseled to do is to keep a journal. President Spencer W. Kimball said, “We urge every person in the Church to keep a diary or a journal from youth up, all through his [or her] life. Would every family...train their children from young childhood to keep a journal of the important activities of their lives, and certainly when they begin to leave home for schooling and missions?” (Spencer W. Kimball “The Foundations of Righteousness,” October 1977 general conference.)
There are so many good opportunities that fill our day-to-day lives that we can’t possibly do them all, and neither can our kids. With so much going on in our children’s lives, is it really worth our time as parents to encourage them to keep a journal?
Absolutely! Journaling just a few minutes a day can help your child in various ways. Here are a few:
1. It increases self-awareness and self-esteem.
Children are still learning who they are, what is important to them, and what they like and dislike. Journaling brings out their inner voice and helps them get to know themselves better. They will discover what makes them happy, frustrated, and sad. Writing down their experiences will allow them to notice how they react in situations, and possibly consider how they might change their reaction in the future. According to one study among undergraduate students, it can also boost their self-efficacy, or their belief that they can accomplish what they set their mind to. Journaling can help your child understand themselves and believe that they can be successful.
2. It builds problem-solving skills.
Being a kid can be hard! Every child encounters many problems each day. They can be simple problems, like how to manage their homework load, or more complex, like dealing with a bully, peer pressure, or other social situations. Problem-solving can be done through impulsive reactions, it can be thought through for a moment, or it can be considered for weeks. But whatever way our children decide to face their difficulties, journaling can help their problem solving in the future.
Stopping to write down a problem and consider solutions helps your child consider ideas they may not have otherwise. Journaling their day-to-day experiences also helps them see patterns in behaviors and choices, which allows them to make corrections down the road. When your child records their feelings about a situation, it allows them to separate out their emotions from facts and make more well-rounded decisions. The habit of journaling connects them with their inner-self and helps them become more aware of their thoughts.
3. It improves communication.
Writing in general helps children with communication and language skills. Journaling can be very helpful for kids who struggle with this. Emily, a mother of five in Springville, Utah, shares her experience:
“My 9-year-old-son struggles with communication. I’m often left grasping at straws trying to guess the best ways to approach him and what issues or topics are worth broaching. In the past year or so, he’s gotten into the habit of collecting blank notebooks that he buys at a vending machine at school whenever he comes across any spare change. These have become his scrapbooks, and they’re tremendously helpful in transmitting thoughts and feelings and memories into a form that helps me know how to help him.
The notebooks include drawings of whatever is currently capturing his interest, homework notes, magazine clippings of things that resonate with him, and journal entries where he records his experiences from his perspective. (I only get to see his scrapbook when he decides he wants to let me look through it.)
All of these entry types help me gain insight into where he’s at emotionally and what’s currently on his mind. Knowing what he is currently interested in helps me have more successful encounters when I need to communicate with him. An example of an entry that was really helpful for me was when he wrote about his soccer game and the encouragement his dad gave him on the drive home. Unlike a lot of kids, he would never choose to talk through this experience with his parents, so it was helpful for me to find out that this was a meaningful enough experience for him to have recorded it, and to discover that the way my husband interacted with our son during a moment of discouragement actually helped.”
4. It can reduce stress.
Kids these days are more stressed and anxious than ever. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders affect one in eight children. This doesn’t even include the regular day-to-day anxiety and stress our kids are faced with. Journaling allows children to slow down and process what happened during their day. It allows them to re-live events in a safe place through their writing and deal with their emotions without judgment.
Writing in a journal releases the intensity of emotions and feelings and has a calming effect. Journaling can be very effective for kids who have anxiety, helping them to feel more in control of their lives. Starting a gratitude journal can help kids who focus on the negatives of life realize their blessings and begin to notice the good around them.
5. It provides spiritual strength.
Keeping a journal is a great way to recognize the Lord’s hand in our lives. A child who keeps a scripture journal will understand the scriptures better and recognize how the scriptures relate to their life. President Kimball said, “Those who keep a personal journal are more likely to keep the Lord in remembrance in their daily lives” (Spencer W. Kimball, New Era, December 1980). Journaling can also help children recognize and utilize the Holy Ghost better in their lives: “It is through the repeated process of feeling impressions, recording them, and obeying them that one learns to depend on the direction of the Spirit” (Richard G. Scott, “Helping Others to be Spiritually Led,” CES Symposium August 11, 1998. Or: “To Learn and to Teach More Effectively,” August 21, 2007 BYU Education Week). In addition, children can use journals at church to help them pay better attention and record what they learn and feel.
Yes, our lives are busy. But keeping a journal can be a positive support in those busy lives—and is well worth the time invested. A few minutes a day can help your child emotionally, spiritually, and academically. From the words of Spencer W. Kimball, “Every person should keep a journal and every person can keep a journal” (Spencer W. Kimball, “Let Us Move Forward and Upward,” April 1979 general conference). So why not have your kids start today?
For more ways to help your child start journaling, check out Elizabeth Dorathy's My Witness of Jesus Christ: Book of Mormon Journal for Youth or check out this cool scripture journal to get started.