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Journaling and Reflective Writing

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Journaling and reflective writing allow us to list our thoughts, emotions, and questions to gain a deeper understanding of what we are feeling and how we relate to the world around us. The best part about reflective writing is it can be adapted to include a group of people to build community, or it can be a completely private practice that is for you and only you.

Journaling can help increase our awareness of our emotions, how they affect our actions and give us space to reflect on how they inform or impact our interactions with others. Talking about feelings isn’t always easy, but journaling offers an alternative option to explore thoughts, feelings, and emotions in a private space.

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Just like other mindful awareness practices, journaling looks different for everyone. Get creative try some of these activities below.

Choose or create a special journal. Whether it’s a journal created out of printer paper and a stapler, an old notebook in the back of the closet, or digital – give children an opportunity to make it their own. Paint, collage, doodle, or draw – creating a space that feels the most comfortable and unique to them.

Start by offering age-appropriate prompts. Begin with topics such as self-esteem, self-reflection, storytelling, etc. to help children get a jump start into their writing and reflection. Invite children/adolescents to utilize the prompts or journal on a topic most important or top of mind for them. Older children may want to stray away from the prompts and simply let their thoughts go as they bring pen to paper. Allow children to have the creative freedom to reflect in their own unique ways.  Looking for prompt examples? Try out some of these:

Journaling prompts for elementary school-aged children and up:

  • What makes you happy?
  • What does the perfect day look like?
  • If (insert feeling word) were sitting next to you, what would they look like?
  • Trace your hand and write or draw 5 things about you on each finger.
  • If you could have one superpower what would it be and why?
  • What makes you feel better when you are feeling upset? How can you help others who are feeling upset?

Journaling prompts for middle school-aged children and up:

  • Write about a person you admire. Why? What traits do you have in common with this person?
  • What is something you learned about yourself this week?
  • Write 3 things that you are grateful for today.
  • What kinds of things can hurt self-esteem? How can you avoid these activities or discourage others from doing them (e.g., bullying)?
  • What do you do when you see a friend struggling? Make a list of acts of kindness you can take.
  • What is something you are proud of?

Journaling prompts for high school-aged children and up:

  • Who is your role model? How has this person influenced who you are today?
  • Write about the most important piece of advice you would share with a loved one or friend.
  • Write about a time you did something you were afraid to try. What helped you to overcome that fear? What did you feel afterward?
  • Write about a time you resisted negative peer pressure.
  • Analyze an area of social injustice. How can young people help make a difference? What should institutions do (schools, city government, etc.) to improve the situation?
  • What is one piece of advice you would give to your younger self?

Support a multimodal approach. A journal doesn’t have to be filled with words. In fact, journals can take many forms and each form can offer a unique creative outlet. Alternatives to writing could look like:

  • Painting or drawing – pick colors that represent different feelings
  • Making a collage – upcycle old magazines and books
  • Photography – a scrapbook of sorts, use photos of places and things to tell a story

Lead by example by offering to journal together. Modeling these practices helps children to formulate their own. Journaling together can be a great way to connect with others and explore empathy. Start by choosing a prompt. Offer to journal separately for a few minutes. Come back together and offer to talk about it. Make it clear that discussing what everyone wrote is optional and not necessary for those who do not wish to share.

Honor yourself by starting your own journaling practice. Journaling as an adult caretaker or teacher can be incredibly beneficial to your own self-awareness and emotion-management. Start by taking 5 minutes of quiet time to yourself to jot down current thoughts, emotions, and questions. Approach your journaling practice without judgment and allow the words to flow naturally. In a time crunch? Take just 30 seconds in between tasks to write a note of gratitude somewhere visible at your desk or in your bathroom. Revisit your gratitude note whenever you need a reset or a change in perspective.