Helping Your Child Improve Their Messy Handwriting

Children are expected to have messy handwriting when they’re starting out, but if your child is struggling with their handwriting skills when most of their classmates seem to have it mastered, it can harm their self-esteem and motivation to do well in school. If your child is struggling with handwriting, Understood has a couple of articles to help you help your child master this critical skill (botharticles are available in Spanish as well).

The first article details how you can help your child at home with their handwriting skills. Start by watching your child when they are writing to see if there are any obvious issues—is their hand tiring or are they having trouble holding their pencil correctly? Talk to your child’s teacher as well to see if what you saw at home is also happening in the classroom. The teacher may also have some suggestions for how you can help at home. Other suggestions from the article include:

The article also includes suggestions on how your child’s school can help as well.

The second article focuses on the specific ways that children may be struggling to write neatly. It details things to look for when your child is writing and how those struggles may show up in what they are putting down on paper. The article also covers the reasons your child may be struggling with their handwriting as well, including their age and developmental status, issues with motor skills, learning disabilities, and even simply being impulsive and rushing through their school work.

It is also important to reassure your child that learning handwriting is a complicated skill, but that it is a skill that can be learned and they can improve. Check out the two articles for more information.

Helping Your Child Get Organized

At times, parenthood feels like an endless battle against chaos. From messy rooms to backpacks stuffed with papers, our children sometimes appear to have never heard the words “neat” or “tidy.” When that chaos is resulting in missed assignments, forgotten lunches, and lost homework, it can be difficult to help them get organized. An article from the Child Mind Institute has some suggestions to help you teach your child these essential skills.

Whether your child has ADHD,executive functioning issues, or simply has never been taught how to get organized, it’s not enough to tell them to try harder. Getting organized requires doing things differently and developing new habits. Organization practices aren’t a “do it this way” solution, but a “find out what works for you.” That means some trial and error, some setbacks, and some persistence is needed to help your child get organized.

Remember that getting organized is a process, not a formula, so be prepared to them learn from the approaches that fail, discover the things that could be improved, and continue to do the things that worked. Other suggestions from the article include:

  • Identify weak spots
  • Use tools
  • Don’t get bogged down in planning
  • What actually works is better than what is supposed to work
  • Sustainability is key
  • Stop beating yourself up and start moving on

The article also notes a few universal tips to being organized that almost always apply to whatever system your child develops:

  • Write it down
  • Put the same thing in the same place every time
  • Make easy-to-lose things bulky
  • Breaking overwhelming tasks into smaller, more manageable pieces will help you get things done
  • The simpler the better

For more information on all of these tips, check out the full article at the Child Mind Institute. Helping your child get organized is like enlisting them on your side in the battle against chaos in your household.

Photo © 2011 by Kristina Alexanderson under Creative Commons license.

Sun Safety

With the weather finally warming here in Illinois, families are spending more time outdoors. Today’s post on sun safety comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC). It is also available in Spanish.

The sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays can damage your skin in as little as 15 minutes. Follow these recommendations to help protect yourself and your family.


You can reduce your risk of skin damage and skin cancer by seeking shade under an umbrella, tree, or other shelter before you need relief from the sun. Your best bet to protect your skin is to use sunscreen or wear protective clothing when you’re outside—even when you’re in the shade.


When possible, long-sleeved shirts and long pants and skirts can provide protection from UV rays. Clothes made from tightly woven fabric offer the best protection. A wet T-shirt offers much less UV protection than a dry one, and darker colors may offer more protection than lighter colors. Some clothing certified under international standards comes with information on its ultraviolet protection factor.

If wearing this type of clothing isn’t practical, at least try to wear a T-shirt or a beach cover-up. Keep in mind that a typical T-shirt has an SPF rating lower than 15, so use other types of protection as well.


For the most protection, wear a hat with a brim all the way around that shades your face, ears, and the back of your neck. A tightly woven fabric, such as canvas, works best to protect your skin from UV rays. Avoid straw hats with holes that let sunlight through. A darker hat may offer more UV protection.

If you wear a baseball cap, you should also protect your ears and the back of your neck by wearing clothing that covers those areas, using a broad spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 15, or by staying in the shade.


Sunglasses protect your eyes from UV rays and reduce the risk of cataracts. They also protect the tender skin around your eyes from sun exposure.

Sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB rays offer the best protection. Most sunglasses sold in the United States, regardless of cost, meet this standard. Wrap-around sunglasses work best because they block UV rays from sneaking in from the side.


Put on broad spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 15 before you go outside, even on slightly cloudy or cool days. Don’t forget to put a thick layer on all parts of exposed skin. Get help for hard-to-reach places like your back. And remember, sunscreen works best when combined with other options to prevent UV damage.

How sunscreen works. Most sunscreen products work by absorbing, reflecting, or scattering sunlight. They contain chemicals that interact with the skin to protect it from UV rays. All products do not have the same ingredients; if your skin reacts badly to one product, try another one or call a doctor.

SPF. Sunscreens are assigned a sun protection factor (SPF) number that rates their effectiveness in blocking UV rays. Higher numbers indicate more protection. You should use a broad spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 15.

Reapplication. Sunscreen wears off. Put it on again if you stay out in the sun for more than two hours and after swimming, sweating, or toweling off.

Expiration date. Check the sunscreen’s expiration date. Sunscreen without an expiration date has a shelf life of no more than three years, but its shelf life is shorter if it has been exposed to high temperatures.

Cosmetics.Some makeup and lip balms contain some of the same chemicals used in sunscreens. If they do not have at least SPF 15, don’t use them by themselves.

Photo courtesy of the National Parks Service.


Are You a Rescuer or a Helper?

If you’re a PTA parent, chances are you are pretty involved in your child’s education. But how you get involved matters in your child’s ability to handle problems on their own once they head out into the world. The two main approaches are often described as Rescuers and Helpers.


  • Take responsibility for solving the problem
  • Tend to give advice when presented with a problem (“You should…”)
  • Bring up past issues that were painful (“This is just like the last time when you…”)
  • Are more like to interfere on behalf of their student (“I’ll call ______ and…”)
  • Tell how they solved a similar problem (“When I was your age…”)
  • Tend to see all problems as big problems
  • Unload their frustrations or fears on the person seeking help
  • Are more likely to feel that there is only one solution to a problem

Result: The parent feels burned out and ineffective, while the student feels disempowered and unheard.


  • Focus on shared goals
  • Leave the past behind, focus on the present
  • Remain or appear to be neutral
  • Use curious questions (“What have you tried?”)
  • Encourage their student to problem solve, using available resources (“What are your ideas?” “Who might you go to for help?”)
  • Listen for feelings and empathize (“It sounds like you…” “How can I help?”)
  • Follow up with their student
  • Let the student make their own decision even if you do not feel it is the best decision

Result: The parent feels useful and effective, while the student feels listened to and empowered.

When our kids are little, it’s easy to be a rescuer because they are much more dependent on us and don’t have many experiences to draw on. But that can easily become our default mode of “helping” as they grow up. Even when they’re little, parents can take the helper approach to teach their child how to solve problems on their own.