Finding The Right Motivator


The little victories are even sweeter after the struggles to succeed.  This one isn’t just about handwriting, it’s a life lesson about work ethic and persistence.  We’ll see if it sticks.


About a week ago the Engineer and I had an epic battle over handwriting practice.  I’ll be the first to tell you that if it’s a battle, then it’s time to try something else.  In this case, however, we have already gone that route.  Tried everything.  Taken breaks.  Gotten a blackboard decal.  Taken wiggle breaks.  Gotten a special slant board to help him with any physical issues.  I even backed off and waited until he was older.  It was still a problem.

Despite trying everything to build up those fine motor muscles, I’ve reached the point where I realized that the only way his handwriting was going to improve was to actually – do – handwriting.   Getting him to do it was a completely different story.


The problem

He hates handwriting.  Why?  It’s a complex mess of learning disabilities, medical issues, anxiety, and a complete lack of work ethic.  “It’s too hard!”  “It hurts my hand.”  For once, I can actually tell what’s going on in that brain of his and I know we’re hitting that classic I can’t do it easily so I don’t want to do it at all gifted thing.  That worries me.  I need him to learn to try hard and keep trying until he gets it.  To learn to persevere, to accomplish something.


The battle

I picked a subject he asked to learn about (how maple syrup is made) and we watched a video and talked about it.  Then I asked him to tell me something he learned – and that I wanted him to write it down for me.   Instant refusal.  Nope, not going to write it down.  “You do it!”  He grabbed the sheet of paper, threw it, and stomped off.

I don’t tolerate that kind of attitude, so after some stern talking to, he stomped back to the table and sat down.  He threw his pencil.  I made him pick it up.  I wrote out the sentence for him to copy, and asked him to start.  A few minutes later he jumped up and ran.  He ran away from schoolwork because of his anxiety, and I let him go.

Why?  I let him go because I realized that he had forgotten most of what he knew about forming his letters.  He couldn’t remember.  And because he couldn’t remember, he was acting out and getting frustrated.


The talk

A little while later I went to him and sat down to talk.  I explained that he had to practice so that he could get better – that I didn’t expect him to be perfect.  I pointed out different things that he’s good at now because he practiced.  And even though I loathe comparing kids, I brought up his best friends as examples.  Did they write perfectly at first?  Nope!  They practiced until they got better.

Then I put some teeth in it.  I reminded him that learning is his job, and if he doesn’t do his job he can’t have privileges.  I didn’t negotiate, I didn’t ask his opinion, I simply stated that because he was having trouble forming his letters we were going to go back to the hated worksheets and he would practice until he improved.

1 worksheet every morning.  Or no tablet.


The finale

He finished that sentence after we talked.  He did it correctly, even if he had to erase each letter and redo it multiple times.  Every single letter in that 9-word sentence was written, re-written, and written again until he did it right.  He doggedly worked at it knowing that I was right there to help.

Then every morning for the next 5 days he did his worksheets.  He ate breakfast and wrote.  Then he brought it upstairs for a parent to inspect, and got his tablet.  He didn’t grumble, he didn’t fuss, he just did it.  I’m in shock.  I’m still in shock.

The result

Yesterday, he did another set of copy work – this time a tongue twister he thought was hilarious.  I am so proud of him!  He did a great job!  He needed very little reminders, he only had to erase a few letters, and he worked through it quickly instead of fighting.  He did it!

After he finished, I told him how proud I was of him.  I gave him a high-five and told him that practice got him this far – practice helped him get better.  And I pointed out that no matter how hard something was, practice would help him get better at it.  He’s so proud of himself that the sheet is on the fridge on display!


This minor success couldn’t have happened without 4 things:

  1. An understanding teacher willing to try different approaches
  2. A firm parent setting appropriate expectations
  3. A consistent approach
  4. The right motivator

Without all of these things he would still be throwing paper and pencils, or getting frustrated at his limitations.  I’m reminded all over again just how complex these kids are.  It requires superhuman patience, understanding, and consistency.  It’s rough.  It’s more than rough, it’s downright impossible!


I’m so happy that he worked through it and learned a good lesson.  I’m even happier that I have a positive, personal example to point to the next time he gets frustrated because something is difficult.  I don’t want him to give up when things are hard.  I want him to try.  Just try.  And just keep trying.

I’m proud of you, kiddo!


You’re still doing worksheets.  This doesn’t get you out of practicing.







  1. Hi there.
    My son is very slmilar!! This is our biggest struggle – handwriting.
    He taught himself to read at age 2; he’ll sit down and read college level books on birds, animals, science etc., for hours since …
    Now , he struggles to want to try handwriting at 9.
    He simply says no,
    I say all that you say, reminders – how once he didn’t know such and such and now he does; doesn’t work. I don’t push – it doesn’t work with him.
    Thanks for sharing your story.
    Take care.


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