Smart parents write lots of notes to their kids, and set things up so their children need to reply in writing. At school, notes often take the form of criticism. Parents can counter this association by leaving him notes to compliment him on a job well done; notes are often more powerful than spoken words.

Notes allow for privacy and reflection and allow people to communicate without anyone else listening in or waiting their turn, says Harvey “Smokey” Daniels, author of thirteen books on language, literacy, and education.  He suggests buying a cheap mailbox at the local home improvement store, letting your son personalize it, then kicking off a correspondence with him.

Through notes, parents can model strong writing. But make sure your letters aren’t polished; use occasional slang or abbreviations, circle a word and write “sp?” beside it, and occasionally cross out a phrase and substitute another. That way you allow him to relax about not being perfect. And never, ever mark, circle, or correct his errors. Leave the red pen stuff to his school; dare to be the one who is focused entirely on encouragement.

Require him to write thank you letters, and encourage him to send ideas or complaints to a company whose products he uses. Kids also can write letters to their favorite authors in care of the publisher’s address at the front of the book or through their website.

When my son was in high school, he was passionate about mountain biking. After several of his favorite places for biking became threatened by city bylaw changes, he began writing passionate letters to politicians. My husband and I encouraged him, and taped the published ones on our refrigerator.

If you can’t think of an issue likely to inspire your son to try his hand at persuasive letter writing, make it into a game instead. Organize a family “play” in which one person is king, queen, president, or mayor, and the others have to write letters to influence him/her to change a decision. Have participants (including parents) read the letters with fanfare.

Remember to compliment some aspect of each impassioned letter. Another way to coax letters from boys is to require them to “apply” with a persuasive letter when they want something, say, a new gadget or an extension on their curfew.

Excerpted from Jump-Starting Boys: Help Your Reluctant Learner Find Success in School and Life, by Pam Withers and Cynthia Gill (Viva Editions).