Bad Handwriting Habits

Is it really possible for kids who are surrounded by people who write, in a world where writing is commonplace, to learn bad habits that will debilitate them?

I asked my husband and his automatic response was, “Yes.  There are bad writing habits people have.”

So I asked him, “What are they? And, do you know anyone who cannot write what they need to because they learned bad habits?”

After thinking for a bit, he said, “No. Everyone perseveres, because they need to get things done.”

Bad handwriting habits are a myth. Sure, kids start writing with inefficient means of making letters. But, there is no evidence that a child who is left to figure out his own way of writing will end up with habits that are impossible to change, or make it impossible for him to write. There is evidence that lots of writing practice can hurt young children’s hands, that asking them to write like an adult when their hands aren’t ready will also hurt their hands, that making children write letters the “proper” way (and which of the many ways is the proper way anyway?) can burn them out.

There is also evidence that if we focus on the handwriting itself, and ask our children to write just to make their writing better, that when it comes time for them to write with a purpose, they are stuck on the details of writing the correct way rather than getting their ideas on paper.

All these happen on a regular basis. I’m not saying they are guaranteed to happen with every child, but that these things do happen, and happen often enough that we KNOW that they happen.

Yet none of this really worries anyone. Hardly anyone bases their instruction on these worries. No, we’re worried that they might develop bad habits if we don’t do drills. Why? There’s no evidence? Why are we worried about something that doesn’t even have any kind of evidence or proof that this “problem” can keep kids from succeeding?

We make this problem by expecting things to be a certain way. If our criteria for writing was simply, “write so other people can read it” and let the child come into that ability in their own way, they will. If we tell them “this is how you write”, there is no room for them to do things their own way, except to have to break out and push against the authority. Some kids can do that, others cannot, or don’t want to. But is that what we want to eventually teach them? There is a “right” way, and if you want to do something that is not the “right” way, you’re gonna have to be disruptive, ignore authority and be defiant?

My son used to write his p’s with a line, then made a circle. That meant that his circle, and his line didn’t touch. Same with b’s and d’s. When the circles touched, I didn’t say anything, when they didn’t, I told him that I couldn’t read what it said (because, really, it was difficult to read). Eventually, after his many months of doing the same thing over and over – making the line with a circle – he realized that I kept asking him to fix those letters. So he asked me, is there an easier way to make a p? Could I show him how I did it? (I had showed him many times before, but he didn’t listen, so I gave up showing him.)

Anyway, when he asked me, I showed him. This time he watched. And asked me to do it again several times. Then, he went back and tried it. It didn’t quite work for him, but he managed to integrate the way I did it, and how he wanted to do it, and came up with his own style of how to write them. Now his p’s are very legible, and I have no idea how he writes. I have let it go.

The only important thing is the end result. The process, is individual. The proper way to write is only the proper way because someone, at some point, said it was.

Remember, at one time, writing with one’s left hand was considered “a bad habit.” A lot of what, today, we’d consider “bad handwriting habits” are cultural. So long as a person can write  legibly, their hand is comfortable and they can do what they need to do when they need to do it, how does it matter if they do it differently than we want them to?

Also, keep in mind, that a lot of kids are not ready to write more than a few letters/words a time until they are 9, 10 or even up to 11 and 12.

My son, who is a master piano player and has been playing since he was 4, has the fine motor skills needed to fly across keyboard like a hummingbird. Yet, writing is one of his least favorite things to do. And prefers not to write anything beyond a couple words. How is it that this kid, whose fingers are molded to the piano, doesn’t like to write?

My daughter, who is 6, is also not ready to write very much. She writes a little here and there. And when she needs to do something, she can write what she needs to. But asking her to write arbitrarily gives her far too much focus on the process. She’s one of those kids who get completely distracted if the process is in the forefront.

I think most kids are that way. I think most people are that way. If you put the process first, instead of the goal that the process is trying to accomplish, it’s really hard to get the job done. If the process is indeed really the focus, then why? What is the inherent benefit of the being in the process? Sometimes there is. Sometimes it’s calming, or centering. But if it’s not a meaningful experience, then it’s without meaning. And what is the point of putting our children through an exercise that has no meaning?

This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t ever ask our children to write. It’s one of the many skills necessary to get along in life. But I say, act as if the kids are already successful, ask them to write when they can be successful, provide opportunities to write and all of that. But being caught up in the worry that the kids might learn bad habits doesn’t help us teach our kids to write. Helping them achieve their goals (not ours), does.

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One Response to “Bad Handwriting Habits”

  1. Anna Says:

    I always said that as long as our kids could leave notes on the kitchen table that I could figure and know where they had gone, that was enough. Now, I would prefer they just text me.


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