Sometimes one of my teen daughters will grimace and make this declaration.
It’s true that learning to spell correctly didn’t come easily for her. We began working on it when she was about six and, even as her sister mastered construction after construction, it remained difficult for her to remember many words with consistency. I encouraged her to persevere and kept working with her through an academically-sound spelling program.
After a couple of years, I did begin to wonder if she had a “problem,” but I determined to remain positive with her even as I began to research possible causes for her difficulty and potential solutions. And I concluded that the main issue – beyond the sheer craziness of English spelling itself! – involved her preferred learning modality. So, then I found some supplementary resources, and she began to make swifter progress, though her spelling still contained rather frequent errors.
And then one day when she was about 13, I swear she woke up one morning able to spell with 95% accuracy – just like that! That day she suddenly got most of her practice words correct, and I noticed over the next few weeks and months that she got most words right most days. Suddenly – due to what I’m now sure was simply a developmental shift as part of her natural maturing process – my “struggling speller” could correctly encode almost every word, and her few remaining errors could easily be attributed to the language’s inherent irregularities.
I happily shared my observations with her on a regular basis, which has helped her to become more confident over the past few years. In fact, she’s a gifted essayist and poet, finding great personal joy through the writing process and communicating profound truths in the most beautiful ways.
So, when she bemoans how she “can’t spell,” I have a responsibility to call her out, in love.
“Honey, that’s a lie. It’s true that it took a while for spelling to ‘make sense’ to you. But let’s look at this essay you wrote the other day. It’s got over 1,200 words and only a handful of misspellings, two of which are actually typos. In fact, most of your pieces only have a few misspellings, and most of the time when we edit together, you remember and rarely misspell the same word again. You’ve actually become very good at spelling, and you’ve developed strategies to check yourself when you’re not sure.”
I want both of my daughters to think and speak accurately about themselves. One of my jobs as a parent is to help them along on that journey. Thus, when I hear them voicing inaccuracies about themselves, it’s my responsibility to speak the truth in love.