Leave the Red Pen in the Drawer



As a new graduate student I was asked to take a TA class. The training prepared me to assist professors with grading assignments in their classes.

One of the first things I learned in that TA course was to avoid using a red pen when I was grading papers. I remember laughing to myself, sure that every high school teacher I ever had used a red pen.

Why avoid the red pen? Because it immediately puts someone on the defensive. It makes the mistakes standout over the things the student did well and is discouraging. The color itself has a negative connotation.

Then they taught us was that we should try  to say something positive before we make a negative comment when we are grading papers.

Not only have these principles helped me as a teacher, but they have also helped me as a parent. They can help all of us.


AVOID THE RED PEN- we should not constantly point out our children’s faults and shortcomings. We shouldn’t spend excessive time focusing on what they do wrong. Sure, there are times when we need to, but not all. the. time. Constantly pointing out their faults is like using a red pen instead of a blue one. Our children will grow up with their mistakes glaring them in the face. That is discouraging, and will immediately put them on the defensive. It makes them feel like doing something good won’t matter, because all we do is point out the bad. Use a black pen, praise the good and make the negative less obvious.

SAY SOMETHING POSITIVE FIRST- When we talk to our children, always start with a positive statement. The only positive we might be able to say is “I love you”. That is okay. Then you can follow it up with the problem. Don’t let yourself say something negative or reprimanding until you have said something positive.

90% of our conversations with our kids should be filled with POSITIVES. With only 10% negative, correcting and reprimanding.

These simple principles will strengthen our relationships with our children, and we will find that they will be better behaved.

Take a minute to step back and evaluate how your conversations with your kids go.

What color pen do you use when grading your kids?

Do your conversations follow the 90/10 rule?


  1. 1

    Purple is the new red :)

    One year, I bought the teacher a pack of purple pens just for this reason.

    Very true!

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