For Kids: Fern’s Writers Block (from Arthur)

Note Fern’s situational perfectionism, caused by:

*being told her story will be the “main event” at the next day’s Fiction Forum

*being told a famous author will be there

*being labeled as “creative.” Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck says that when you praise kids for attributes–by calling them, for instance, “smart” or “creative”–they freeze up, in part because they have no control over those attributes (which are vague, anyhow), and are afraid they won’t be able to repeat their success. Instead, praise them for effort–for concentration, effort, strategies–and for specific results, and you’ll likely motivate them to work even harder.

*note also the catastrophizing: Fern imagining the event as being disastrous. (In fact, imagining Shakespeare attending your reading and dissing you is some world-class catastrophizing! I’m actually a bit worried about the writer who came up with that script!)

If I were Fern’s mom, I would remind her that:

  • She’s written many wonderful stories, and will no doubt write many more: that no one story is very important, even if it happens to be heard by a famous writer.
  • Most writers follow the same path: that everyone was a beginner once, and that most people find it hard to show their work, especially to strangers, and especially to more “important” people who might judge them.
  • That she’s not just a writer, but a wonderful person who has a lot of other interests and accomplishments.
  • That this will only be one interesting event out of many, in many arenas, in her life.
  • That, regardless of the outcome of the reading, I will continue to love and respect and admire her as much as ever.

I would also encourage her to have fun writing her story and not worry about how it will be received. But if she is anxious about the event, I would work with her to help her create options for herself. Maybe she can ask the teacher if she can:

  • Read a prior work she feels confident about.
  • Read an excerpt from the story instead of the whole thing.
  • Have the teacher read her story.
  • Have other kids read their work as well. (Takes the pressure off her as the soloist, and creates lovely opportunities for the others.)
  • Not read at all.

How about it, parents! Did I get it right? Did I leave anything out? How would you support your kid if she or he were in Fern’s situation?

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