In an age where video games, cell phones and computers are paramount, it can be challenging to find ways to connect as a family, relax and get in touch with our slower-paced and more personal roots. One of the assignments that parents are required to do in the Child-Parent Relationship Training that I offer is write their children three letters in three weeks. I thought that I would share my perceived benefits of doing so, and offer some ideas on how to make it fun.
Children do not often receive mail. The box is typically filled with junk mail, fliers, bills and credit card applications, all addressed to the adults in the household. However, as much as parents disregard most of the mail, kids are fascinated by the mail carrier, the mail truck, the fact that a box on the street fills up every day with paper and envelopes. Combine interest with a touch of the unknown, and you have the makings of a great adventure.
The written word communicates time, thought, attention and consideration. A text or an email is often a quick and easy method to get the job done, but receiving a card or letter that has been crafted with a writing instrument expresses something more special. So, not only does the act of writing someone a letter teach children the value of giving something extra to those whom you love, receiving a letter reinforces the way it makes you feel when someone took the time to do the same for you.
Here are some ways to engage your children in writing letters or cards to others:
1. ALWAYS insist on thank-you cards for any gifts received. It is important to note that these go out regardless of whether or not they liked the gift, and before they get to play with or use the gifts. The cards can have just their name printed by them and a message by you if they are too young to write words. Otherwise, one to two sentences is all you need. A simple, “Thank you for the toy. I like it.” is sufficient.
2. Allow them to make their own personal cards or stationary. Get thick card-stock in different colors, stamps or stencils, and markers. Fold card stock in half to make cards, then cut a slightly smaller contrasting color card stock to be glued on top for a layered look. They can put their name, initials, stickers or anything that they choose to personalize them.
3. Have them secure a pen-pal. This can be a friend from school, a distant relative, an elderly neighbor, or anyone committed to maintaining a relationship with your child via letters. I had a pen-pal from the Phillipines when I was young, and I looked forward to every letter. My grandmother had a pen-pal for more than 50 years. The relationship created through letters can be life-changing, as it exposes children to life outside of their worldview. Scheduling a pen-pal writing time is an easy way to make sure that your child continues to reply, and a letter once a month is likely frequent enough.
4. Help your child choose which well-known person to whom they would like to write a letter. It can be their favorite athlete, musician, author, TV character, etc. The President is also an option, as well as congressmen and women, local police officers and firefighters, and so on. You may only get a form letter back, but it will be a great keepsake and lesson in communication with people outside of their normal circles. And, you may be surprised to receive a real response!
Here are some ways to write to your kids:
1. Choose a date that has significance (date of birth, favorite number, number of family members, etc.) and write a letter to your child(ren) every month on that day. It can be a very short letter (remember clear and concise is always better) telling them what you appreciate about them. “I noticed that you have been helpful with your brother. I appreciate that about you.” Not only does this build self-esteem and self-confidence, but it allows you to share your heart with them in a unique way.
2. Vary the delivery method of the letters that you write. You can mail a letter to your child so that it comes in the mailbox, then send it to school in their backpack, then hide it in their soccer bag. The possibilities are endless, and can become a playful element to the letter writing. If your child really likes receiving mail from the mailman, vary what the letter is written on. It can be a card, in a small box, write it on card stock and cut it up into a puzzle, etc.
3. The letters do not necessarily have to come from you to be meaningful. Letters from the toothfairy (written on velum in sparkly pen), leprechaun (written so small in green pen that you have to use a magnifying glass to read it), or Santa (Send a letter written “From Santa” stamped and addressed to your child in a larger envelope by Dec 15 to:
North Pole Christmas Cancellation
5400 Mail Trail
Fairbanks, AK 99709-9998
They will postmark it from the North Pole!) bring out creativity, imagination and awe.
4. Spend time addressing the envelopes with your child, so they learn about the importance of a correct address, city and zip code. Show them where the return address goes and why it is important. Explain what a stamp is and where it goes, and let them choose stamps at the post office that they like for their letters. There are usually kid-oriented offerings at the post offices.
I hope these ideas spark an interest in showing your children about the letter-writing art. There is nothing better than getting a card in the mail from someone you love. Hopefully, it will inspire a lifetime of correspondence through the USPS!