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Why Kids Need to Journal and How Technology Can Help

Shy, reserved, and anxious to the point of suffering from regular stomach aches, Payton Akers was not embracing fourth grade at Lusher Elementary School in Hazelwood, MO – at least not until her teacher helped her find her voice through the use of technology and journaling.


“Writing gives my students a voice and sometimes that’s all they need,” says Lesli Henderson, fourth-grade teacher at Lusher. “That voice helps them discover confidence, solve problems, and figure out what they think about things. Writing it versus saying it feels safe.”

Journaling isn’t a new concept but, despite its many benefits, it can be a difficult habit to establish, particularly in children and teens. Technology – including blogs and apps for phones, tablets and computers – offers another way for teachers, mental health professionals and parents to prompt kids to write more.

Henderson began using technology to get her students to express themselves through journaling in 2009 and every year she has seen children flourish in different ways through the process.

“I think kids need to be heard. They have things to say but they don’t think anyone is listening. Journaling or blogging empowers them,” she says.

That was certainly true for Payton, according to her mother, Rebecca Akers. “When she started school last year, she was meek and timid,” Akers says.

“She didn’t want to get out of her shell. But then she started posting some things on the blog, just little things that happened at home or that were exciting to her, and it led to conversations during class. She started opening up and making friends. I think the technology enables kids to put their feelings and their emotions out there, really letting their walls down, which leads to stronger interactions.”

Henderson uses a website called Kidblog where she pays a fee of about $39 to create a private blog for her classes each year. All the students have the ability to log on and write entries, post pictures or video, and comment on each other’s posts.

“I encourage them to use the blog for whatever they want – to talk about things we did in class, react to things we are reading, journal about their day, anything they want to share,” Henderson says.

Malissa Beecham, a 5th grade teacher at Willow Brook Elementary in Creve Coeur, MO, started using Kidblog last year with her classroom and she likes how the technology gets more students involved in discussions, both written and face-to-face.

“In a classroom, not everyone will raise their hand and answer a question,” Beecham says. “But on the blog, there is the opportunity for more kids to comment on something we discussed in class. The conversation goes back and forth sometimes on the blog, and I love it when I see a student comment, ‘I never thought of it like that before.’ The discussion on the blog opens them up to considering the ideas and opinions of others.”

Beecham says the biggest benefit she has seen from using the technology is the writing aspect. “They are learning to love writing. Even the kids who don’t like to write at all will write on the blog because they love getting feedback from their peers about what they are writing and thinking,” she says.

Journaling and Mental Health

Jonnell Patton, LPC, is a counselor in St. Louis, MO, who encourages journaling with most of her patients, regardless of their age. “Often emotions are hard to name and hard to put to words, especially for kids,” she says.  “Journaling helps get some of the emotions out in the open.”

She adds that journaling can be particularly useful in helping children deal with things like the death of a loved one, divorce,  depression and anxiety, nightmares and even bullying.

“It’s important to remember that you don’t have to write whole sentences when journaling; you don’t even have to use words,” Patton says. “Journaling can be pictures, and a picture offers a therapist or parent a chance to ask questions about the picture to get conversation started.”

Patton often has employed the drawing method for journaling to help children dealing with the death of a loved one. She has them draw pictures of memories they had with that person, both positive and negative. “Then, with either myself or their parent, I have them describe the picture. This helps them articulate what’s going on inside of them, and helps give the parents an idea of the emotions that are stirred up inside.”

She encourages the parents to keep the pictures to help the child remember. “They can even take a picture of the drawings to make a digital scrapbook so the child can have the book forever,” she says.

Terry Freerks, Ph.D., LPC, a marriage and family therapist in St. Louis, MO, calls journaling a “tool in her toolkit” and uses it to help patients in her practice, whether they are dealing with depression, anxiety or a host of other mental health issues.

“Journaling can help children, and adults, learn how they feel and discover where their triggers are,” she says. “It can also help us make some movement on a problem because once we can externalize something, that can lead to action.”

Technology Available for Journaling

Certainly, journaling can be done via old-fashioned paper and pen, and when it comes to very young children and picture journaling, it’s the best option. But technology like KidBlog and other platforms and apps, can help parents, teachers and counselors launch kids into a habit of capturing their thoughts and feelings via an electronic format.

One such app is Notability, available for Macs, iPads and iPhones.  Justin Brock, business development and marketing manager at Ginger Labs, the creator of Notability, says they have numerous English teachers using the app with their students to keep a daily journal.

“We designed Notability to help people create and capture information in a way that best suits their needs,” he says. “It really gives students the opportunity to express themselves in the way that’s best for them.”

Notability offers the opportunity to write using text (keyboard or touch screen) and by hand using a stylus or even their finger. Likewise, the option to draw sketches or illustrations using different colors is offered, and users can even insert digital pictures and audio into their note.

Notability costs $7.99 for a license that covers the iPad and iPhone, and $5.99 for the Mac. Notes will sync across all devices using a cloud service.

There are dozens of apps and websites that are free, as well, and Henderson encourages parents to explore what’s out there if they think the technology will get their children writing more.  Commonsensemedia.org offers a list of options, but a few that are free and are not listed on Commonsensemedia.org are Journaley and Evernote.

“I have students who continue to write on the blog from their classroom years after they were in my class,” Henderson says. “I even have one girl who went onto middle school and started writing book chapters and posting them on the blog for kids to read and give her feedback.”

Payton is one of the students who still writes on the blog even though she’s moved onto fifth grade. “It helps me express myself more,” she says.

Her mom adds that Payton also has started journaling at home separate from the blog. “She increased her self esteem so much from this that she tried out for and made a competitive dance team,” Akers said.

Journaling Tips for Parents

Parents who want their children to take up the habit of journaling should consider the following tips:

1 | Avoid the word ‘journaling.’

That word can put too many limits on the activity, according to Patton. “It sounds like they have to sit down and write sentences. Leave it open for drawing pictures, writing phrases or single words.”

2 | Set a time limit.

Patton says to keep the activity from feeling overwhelming, set a timer for 10 minutes. “If that feels like too much, do five minutes,” she says. “The goal is to get them doing it and increase it over time.”

3 | Do a word association or give them a topic.

“If they are dealing with a bully or a divorce, put the word “bully” or “divorce” at the top of the page and tell them to write all the words that come to mind,” Patton says.

4 | Agree to “no rules.”

It’s important for kids to feel like there’s no right or wrong when it comes to their journaling, according to Patton. “Forget grammar and spelling and sentences. It’s more important about getting what’s on the inside to the outside so you’re not alone with it.”

5 | Discuss privacy. 

Freerks says that parameters regarding privacy need to be part of the conversation, especially with older children. “If something is bothering your child, you can offer to let him/her write it down and leave it with you to read because that might be easier than verbalizing their feelings,” Freerks says. “But if they don’t want to share, you can tell them that you will respect their privacy as long as you are not fearful that something really bad is going on. “

6 | Address social media issues.

Freerks says that electronic journaling can be a great tool, but parents need to help children and teens understand the potential impact and consequences of sharing personal information on social media and through email.

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Ah, back to school time. The excitement of a new year for our kids and the impossibly busy schedule for their mamas. Anyone else get to the end of the day and think, "What did I even DOOO today, and why am I so exhausted?" 🙋

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In the moments after we give birth, we desperately want to hear our baby cry. In the middle of the night a few months later it's no longer exactly music to our ears, but those cries aren't just telling us that baby needs a night feeding: They're also giving us a hint at what our children may sound like as kindergarteners, and adults.

New research published in the journal Biology Letters suggests the pitch of a 4-month-old's cry predicts the pitch they'll use to ask for more cookies at age five and maybe even later on as adults.

The study saw 2 to 5-month olds recorded while crying. Five years later, the researchers hit record again and chatted with the now speaking children. Their findings, combined with previous work on the subject, suggest it's possible to figure out what a baby's voice will sound like later in life, and that the pitch of our adult voices may be traceable back to the time we spend in utero. Further studies are needed, but scientists are very interested in how factors before birth can impact decades later.

"In utero, you have a lot of different things that can alter and impact your life — not only as a baby, but also at an adult stage," one of the authors of the study, Nicolas Mathevon, told the New York Times.

The New York Times also spoke with Carolyn Hodges, an assistant professor of anthropology at Boston University who was not involved in the study. According to Hodges, while voice pitch may not seem like a big deal, it impacts how we perceive people in very real ways.

Voice pitch is a factor in how attractive we think people are, how trustworthy. But why we find certain pitches more or less appealing isn't known. "There aren't many studies that address these questions, so that makes this research especially intriguing," Hodges said, adding that it "suggests that individual differences in voice pitch may have their origins very, very early in development."

So the pitch of that midnight cry may have been determined months ago, and it may determine part of your child's future, too. There are still so many things we don't know, but as parents we do know one thing: Our babies cries (as much as we don't want to hear them all the time) really are something special.

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A new school year is looming and while a lot of parents are looking forward to seeing their kids take the next steps in their education, many of us are not looking forward to getting everyone back into a weekday morning routine.

Mornings can be tough for kids and their mamas. One of our favorite celebrity mamas, Kristen Bell, does not deny that mornings with her daughters, 5-year-old Lincoln and 3-year-old Delta, aren't easy at all.

"It's miserable," Bell recently told POPSUGAR. "It's awful no matter who's doing what. And I'll tell you right now, the 3- and 5-year-old aren't doing jack."

Anyone who has ever tried to wrangle a preschooler out of their pajamas, to the breakfast table, then into their school clothes and backpack at seven o'clock in the morning knows exactly what Bell is talking about. She says some days are better than others, but it's hard to know what level of kid-induced chaos you're gonna wake up to on a weekday.

"It depends on their emotional stability, it depends on their attitude toward each other, toward life," Bell told POPSUGAR. "It depends on their developmental stage."

Luckily, Bell has got some backup. She's been open about how she and her husband, Dax Shepard, practice a tag team approach to parenting, and sometimes, Bell gets a chance to tap out of the morning routine. Unfortunately, Shepherd's later schedule means it doesn't happen as often as she would necessarily like.

"I don't want to say that I do more mornings than he does, but if you were to check the records, that's probably what you'd find," she told POPSUGAR.

If, like Bell, you're really not feeling mornings with the kids, there are a few things you can try to make things a little easier on yourself, mama.

1. Change the conversation

Instead of saying "hurry up" or "get in the car, right now,"try to mix up your vocabulary a bit.

If there's a need for speed, remind the kids that it's time for "fast feet" or that you're racing to the car.

If you're feeling overwhelmed, you might consider sharing that with your kids. Let them know that mama's got a lot to do this morning and that it would be a huge help if they could make sure their water bottle is in their backpack.

2. Make breakfast ahead of time

If cereal isn't your jam or your kids need something hotter, and more substantial in the morning, cooking up breakfast can be a major hurdle on hectic mornings.

Check out these Pinterest perfect make-ahead morning meals, like breakfast enchiladas or egg muffins, and make mornings a bit easier on yourself, mama.

3. Bring some Montessori into your mornings

Help your kids take control of their AM destiny by bringing some limited choices (like clothing) into the morning routine and allowing for natural consequences (like having to settle for an apple in the van because they missed breakfast) but also allowing for fun with mom.

"Try doing something simple, with clear boundaries, such as reading two books before it's time to start the morning routine. If they're ready early, you can spend more time together, which is also a great natural incentive," writes Montessori expert Christina Clemer.

Here's to a less stressful AM routine for Kristen Bell and the rest of us mamas. Just because it feels miserable today doesn't mean it will be tomorrow. There is hope, Kristen!

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It was a year ago when I was pregnant, parenting a highly-spirited preschooler and also working a full-time job while trying to maintain a part-time side business when I got to the point of I have had enough.

I can't remember exactly what the trigger was, but like most times, it wasn't just one thing but a build-up over time that culminates in a massive meltdown.

You see, I was not getting much appreciation or validation for all of my contributions. This was a time when my partner, too, was working full-time and in graduate school two evenings a week. It was stressful for everyone, but, as the wife and mother, I carried the family through it by tending to the little details: the pick-up and drop-offs, the shopping, the cooking, all the minutiae of everyday life.

So, after perseverating on my laundry list of seen and unseen responsibilities, I decided to sit down with pen and paper and make a "day in the life" list from wake-up to bedtime that showed my partner exactly what my day entailed—a day that supported two other people in the house and one in the oven.

Even I was surprised to see all of the things listed out in 15-minute increments. On paper, it actually looked even worse than it felt. I thought to myself about how much physical, mental and emotional energy I expend in this hectic season of our lives. And I didn't regret it for a minute.

However, back to my original complaint…I still wanted to be validated for it. I needed to be seen for both the implicit and explicit tasks and expectations in my day-to-day.

So I handed my list over to my husband, expecting him to be awakened to the fact I was indeed working in overdrive and for him to be grateful for all the ways that I take so many burdens off of him so that he can be successful in school and his career.

Instead of that, his response almost put me into a state of shock. He read over the list and then said, "I know. You are Superwoman."

His words, like kryptonite, left me speechless. Part of me knew that his intent was for this to be a compliment, but it felt so invalidating. It completely missed the mark, and instead of leaving me feeling appreciated, I felt less understood.

Superheroes have innate superpowers that I imagine they use with ease. In fact, they are expected to use their powers and perhaps that is their sole purpose. No one ever looks to a superhero and asks, "Do you need a break?" And as a feminist, I sure as heck believe women are strong and powerful. But the idea of being labeled a "superwoman" did not feel empowering.

I already know I am efficient, capable, strong and fierce. But, I am also fatigued, sometimes overworked and underappreciated, and worst of all expected to be the one that keeps it together for everyone else.

What I learned about through my research of who Superwoman really is was this: her powers always wear off by the end of the story. Turns out these so-called "superpowers" really are temporary. That I can relate to.

I am only human and there are days and weeks where I feel on top of the world, days where I can manage it all with ease. I can be up all night nursing a baby, take both kids to school, and show up on time for a 9:00 am meeting with a French pastry I baked from scratch. I can push through the exhaustion and demands every day…until I can't.

And it's not just my spouse who uses this label. I have well-meaning girlfriends who have also tossed the term out there as if it was meant to be a feather in my cap.

When things get tough, I appreciate the texts of support my girlfriends send me. Even when they are far away, it's nice to know someone cares when everyone in your house has the stomach flu while your partner is out of the country. It's comforting to be able to share the ups and downs of trying to balance a career with a growing family.

But when the text comes in and says something like, "I don't know how you do all that. You are a supermom!" I feel like there should be an auto-reply that says, "Connection lost."

The thing is, I don't want to be elevated to superhero status for living my life. It is not heroic and it's probably not too far off from what every other devoted partner and mother provides their family. But, this is what I think we need, what we are starving for. We need someone to say, "How are you doing?" or, "What have you done lately to care for yourself?" or, "Thank you for all that you do and who you are."

Those are the kinds of words that let me know I am seen and make me feel validated when I am working the hardest. They let me know that the people I love the most see me, and not a cape.

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