The Power of Writing to Your Kids

Kids are interesting people. If your child is of a certain age, you may be very familiar with the refrain, “I know, I know,” that your child often begins repeating before you can get two words out of your mouth. Or maybe you aren’t sure your children know how much you love (and like) them. Or perhaps there is a “delicate” topic you want to discuss with your child, but feel like you and/or your child will be too uncomfortable to have the thorough conversation that is needed. The answer is often writing a note or letter to your child.

Parents who have tried this often find their notes are read and re-read. The wisdom and love you put in the note will be there for your child to read when you may not be readily available. Your children can consider what you wanted them to know privately at their own pace. They can even remind your children how much you will always love them when you are in a rough patch with your relationship.

There are a few important things to remember as you write your notes to your kids.

  • Write the note by hand, but print clearly. Handwritten notes just feel more personal. If your kids can’t read your handwriting though, they may always wonder what you meant to say….or worse yet misread a word as something you would never have written.
  • Keep the tone positive. Even if you want to impart concerns to your child, try to keep the overall tone of your letter or note positive. If you write harsh words, they may be read for many years…long after you have calmed down or the situation has improved. It’s not the legacy of your relationship you want to leave behind.
  • Be specific. “You are a great kid!” is wonderful, but it’s even more meaningful for your child if you mention some specific things that make him or her so wonderful to you. Generalities aren’t necessarily bad, but they can leave your child wondering if you are secretly using some fill in the name generic template for the note.
  • Mention their future with God. You don’t necessarily have to add this to every note, but it’s great to give your kids a peek at the future you are dreaming for them as servants of God. What kid doesn’t want to know God has planned good deeds specifically for them?!
  • Connect with them emotionally. Notes are great for giving vent to all those “mushy” emotions about your kids that they may complain about when you say them. They still need to hear them, but writing them down allows them to reread those words whenever they want to remind themselves of your love for them.
  • Encourage, encourage, encourage. Your kids need to know you believe in them. They need to know that even when they make mistakes or sin, you believe they can still become who God wants them to be with His help. They need to know it’s okay to keep growing and learning – even if they make some mistakes in the process. They need to know that redemption and forgiveness are always possible.

So pull out some paper and a pen. Use plain paper or cute notes. Add artwork or doodles. Once you’re done, slip it on their pillow where they can’t miss it. You may just be surprised to find out how much those notes really mean to your kids.

Fun Way to Shower Your Kids With Love

You’ve probably heard of the five love languages, but did you know your kids need a little of all of them? When they are hurting or upset, they will probably have one or two they prefer. The rest of the time, they need you to give them some of all five.

There’s a fun way to shower your kids with words of affirmation. While it would seem that “words of affirmation” is one of the easier ways to express love, if you aren’t careful, it can backfire. To make this activity fun, you will need lots of hearts on which you can write words. For each child, create as many hearts as you can with words of affirmation for that child.

As you create your hearts, there are some important things to remember.

  • Make them personal. If each child gets hearts with the exact same words on them, it won’t feel genuine. And yes, at some point they will compare.
  • Make them specific. “I love it when you laugh at my silly dad jokes” is more meaningful than “You have a nice laugh.”
  • Make them uplifting, not passive aggressive. “I love it when you brush your teeth” when it has been an ongoing struggle does not feel loving, it feels like another frustrated reminder.
  • Be honest. Don’t say “I love spending time with you” when most of the time you aren’t around and they have to jump up and down to get any attention from you at all. Don’t say “I love how sweet you are to your little sister” when they’ve heard you tell your friends multiple times how mean you think they are to her. Kids have a very strong understanding of honesty. Don’t try to be less than honest with them.
  • Make them mushy. They will moan and grown, but secretly they will treasure that you wrote that her smile when she sees you after school makes your day better. This is a great way to say all of those things to older kids that they never let you finish saying.
  • Make it fun. Have them taped to their door one morning when they wake up or put the cereal in a baggie and fill the empty box with your hearts, so when they pour their cereal the hearts fill their bowl. Have fun with it. Don’t feel like you have to wait for Valentine’s Day or their birthdays. If you rotate kids, make sure they all get a turn and each child gets about the same number and quality of hearts when it is his or her turn.

Showering your kids periodically with words of affirmation can help them understand how much you really do love them. And that can make it easier for them to build strong spiritual foundations and reach their godly potential.

What’s Your Parenting Tone?

Have you ever heard someone say “I love you” in a way that sounds more like “I can barely tolerate you”? If so, then you understand the impact tone has on what we say. As a parent, you may have even said to your kids, “It’s not what you said, but how you said it.” You are probably working with your kids on the tones they use with others, but have you given much thought to the tones you use when parenting them?

Children can be particularly sensitive to tone. They may not have enough life experience to know that when daddy is grumpy after work, it is more about his job than them. Since kids tend to be naturally a bit egocentric, they will take what they infer from a negative tone used consistently and begin to apply it to how they define themselves.

Now, I’m not about to say that you can never be firm with your children when they are rebellious and disobey you. What I will say is that when a parent who generally uses a warm, loving tone with their children does use a firm tone, the children pay close attention. On the other hand, parents who are consistently harsh with their children are ignored after a time.

James 1:19 doesn’t specifically address tone, but the advice can be applied to tone. Be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger when communicating with your kids. Use warm, loving tones as much as possible. Avoid sarcasm, which is easily missed by children. Remember, your tone for correction can be firm, but still loving.

Don’t forget, the tone you intend may not be the tone that is heard. Some children are more sensitive than others. Kids who are never yelled at by their parents will call a slightly raised voice yelling. The personalities and current moods of your kids can impact how your kids interpret your tone. If they are hungry or tired, their interpretation will be more negative than when they are well fed and rested.

Not sure how they perceive your tones? Have them do an imitation of you in different situations. (If you can’t laugh at yourself, don’t try this!) or ask your spouse or a friend who is around when you interact with your kids what they think. You can try asking your kids to describe your tones, but they may not have the vocabulary or life experience to do so accurately. Instead try asking them if what you said was music, what kind of music would it be.

Tone is only one piece of your communications with your kids, but it’s an important one. Working on a tone that will be heard and heeded as loving and helpful, will make your parenting journey a lot easier.

Family Trees and Christian Parenting

You’re probably not familiar with genograms unless you have a background in psychology. Genograms are a way that was created to plot out family relationships, patterns and other issues and experiences that could impact a person’s life. Think of it as a family tree with the stories attached. So what does this have to do with Christian parenting? Because the way you parent your children is influenced by the way you were parented and things that happened during your formative years.

Whether we realize it or not, we often do the same things our parents did. If we disagreed strongly with some of their parenting choices, we may do the opposite, thinking that is the better solution. All of this is done with often very little realization of what is happening.

Christian parents need to be extremely intentional in their parenting choices. They need to have their goals in mind (Hopefully, the top goal being raising faithful, productive Christians.), making choices in their parenting that will help them reach those goals.

Since the unintentional is where parents make their most common mistakes, intentional Christian parenting should perhaps start with discovering and acknowledging the things from our own backgrounds that might influence our parenting. These can then be analyzed to help us identify our potential strengths and weaknesses as parents and develop strategies to mitigate any weaknesses.

At Teach One Reach One Ministries, we designed some questions to help you through this process. This is not an actual genogram exercise, although you may recognize some similarities. We encourage you to Google “genogram”, if you want to delve into them more deeply and work with the actual program.

The questions below, contain spiritual questions which are not usually part of a genogram exercise. We have narrowed down the questions to specific experiences, cycles and other dynamics that will help you pinpoint any potential strengths and weaknesses you might have as a parent. We are not psychologists and this is not a formal instrument. Rather it can be used to generate reflection and discussion. If you have concerns about your answers, please contact a licensed Christian psychologist, counselor or therapist to help.

Answer the following questions. There is no answer key, as this is an exercise to encourage you to analyze your family of origin and how it might impact your parenting choices. You will not have to share your answers with anyone, unless you choose to do so.

  1. Who raised you as a child? These are the adults with whom you lived and who were responsible for your primary care and guidance. If you lived with various caregivers/guardians/parents from birth to age eighteen, list each, your age when living with them and the amount of time you lived with them. Note: If you had a consistent babysitter/nanny for multiple hours a day, several days a week, lasting more than a year, you may wish to include him/her as an influential caregiver.
  2. Are your birth parents still married to each other? If not, how old were you when the divorce occurred? If you were raised by a couple other than your birth parents, are they still married? If not, how old were you when the divorce occurred? 
  3. If your parents/caregivers divorced, did either remarry? How much time did you spend with each parent/caregiver after the divorce? Did your parents/caregivers frequently fight over custody issues? Did either parent/caregiver have additional children by a spouse other than your parent/caregiver?
  4. Were you raised by a single parent/caregiver?
  5. Were you raised by foster parents or in a group home or orphanage? If so, what were the circumstances that placed you there?
  6. Were you adopted? If so, at what age? What information do you know about your birth parents? Have you met your birth parents? If you have or had a relationship with your birth parents, briefly describe it.
  7. Did one or more of your adult parents/caregivers die while you were under the age of eighteen? If so, how old were you when he or she died?
  8. Did you know your grandparents? If so, what was their marital status? List the information for all grandparents who were alive during your youth. Make note of any divorces and remarriages.
  9. Did any parents, caregivers or grandparents have issues with addiction, chronic or severe health problems, mental health, spending time in prison or anything else that negatively impacted their lives? Briefly describe any issues.
  10. On average, how much time did you spend with your grandparents?
  11. Describe your relationship with each parent, caregiver and grandparent and their relationships with each other in brief (including the relationship between your paternal and maternal grandparents if they knew each other). Use the terms indifferent, distant, estranged, cordial, affectionate, cold, securely attached, insecurely attached, very close, conflict, physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, neglect if they apply.
  12. Describe how each of your caregivers guided your attitudes and behavior using the terms verbal correction, no correction, loving guidance, lectures, example setting, corporal punishment, yelling, cursing, beating, physical abuse, extreme criticism, emotional abuse, withholding approval, withholding affection, withholding food, isolation if they apply.
  13. Were you raised with siblings? If so list all of the children in your family (including you) in birth order, noting age differences between siblings.
  14. Briefly describe your relationship with each sibling, both as children and as adults, using the terms close, very close, cordial, distant, conflictual, no relationship if they apply.
  15. Briefly describe the relationship each of your caregivers and grandparents have (had) with God. Use terms like Christian, (denomination name), Christian in identity only, attended worship, Easter and Christmas only, active, productive, Bible reader, prayer, served others regularly, shared faith regularly, (religion name, if other than Christian), agnostic, atheist if they apply.
  16. Briefly describe any influence each parent, caretaker and/or grandparent had on your spiritual life.
  17. List anything significant in your life that you believe might have an impact on your parenting choices. These could include experiences, observations, education, things you have heard or read, etc.
  18. Looking at the information above, what patterns, strengths, and/or weaknesses do you see that might impact your parenting choices?
  19. If you would like to explore this topic in more depth, you can research genograms and attach your genogram drawing.

Holiday Activities That Get Your Kids Talking

In order for you to be successful in your Christian parenting journey, it helps if you and your kids have a solid relationship. This means, amongst other things, that you actively listen to what your kids need or want to tell you. Regularly giving them that time, energy and respect often means they will be more likely to listen to you when you have something important to share with them.

Unfortunately, many parents struggle with getting their kids to talk to them. At times you may feel as if the only word in your child’s vocabulary is “fine”. You’ve tried everything, but nothing seems to get the conversation flowing.

Fortunately, the holidays provide the opportunity to do a lot of things with your kids. Some of these activities encourage conversation as you complete them. Think of your reluctant talker as a little bird you want to eat out of your hand. What do you do? You don’t pepper it with a lot of questions and noise. Rather you sit there quietly waiting for the bird to feel safe, relax and move towards you.

Your children will probably respond in a similar fashion. Ask them to participate in one of the activities below. These are things that allow you to talk easily while completing them. They also last long enough to give your child time to relax and begin opening up a bit. There are a lot of things you can do, but these are some of our favorites.

  • Cooking. Whether it’s a meal or holiday cookies, cooking takes time. Plus you have even more opportunities to talk when it’s done as you enjoy eating it!
  • Crafting. Need some Christmas decorations? Why not get some supplies or a kit and work together to make them?
  • Decoration walks. Be safe, but take an evening stroll through your neighborhood to look at all of the holiday decorations. The longer the walk, the more time you will have to talk.
  • Wrapping presents. If you have a lot of gifts to wrap, have your kids help you wrap the ones that aren’t for them. There’s always something upbeat about wrapping gifts, even if they don’t look like they belong in a magazine spread when you’re finished.
  • Decorating the tree. If your ornaments are from family adventures, this has the added benefit of sharing fun memories as you decorate. Those warm feelings can encourage your reluctant talker to open up about some current things.
  • Planning surprises. What if you asked your reluctant talker to help you plan and execute a special surprise for the rest of the family? Working together on a fun secret project can make your child feel closer to you and encourage talking about other things, too.

When your children start talking, don’t interrupt. Let them talk and talk if they want to do so. There may be a lot of surface stuff that is shared before they tell you deeper things. Don’t overreact to what is said. Listen actively. Ask thoughtful questions. Choose wisely when and how to share any thoughts you may have on the topic. If initial conversations go well, you will hopefully find you have even more conversations with your kids in the future. And that can give you the opportunities you want to give your kids the spiritual coaching they need.