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Silent Conversations

How a Kitchen Letterbox Improved Our Relationship

— inspiration from my own trial-and-error parenting

My children receive a constant stream of verbal communication; from their phones, internet, teachers and most of all from their parents! Days can go by when it seems all we have discussed is school, sports practices, chores, and computer rules. Lots of talk but not much is being said.

To initiate a deeper conversation I began writing little letters to each of my kids. And they wrote back. It has been a fantastic way of communicating without talking and without technology.

It was a surprise to discover that they would often share their thoughts and feelings more easily by writing about them than they would by talking. Writing was a way of being heard without having to say anything; a silent conversation free of interruption and free of technology

I started writing letters to my children when they were very young. It began as a creative way to lure a reluctant child down the reading/writing pathway. A battered tin mailbox empty of its Christmas marshmallows was set up on a shelf in the living room at the height of their noses.

The festive receptacle would sit there inconspicuously , flap open and yawning empty. I would sneak the letters in, quietly closing the mouth flap and raising its little red flag – seemingly unnoticed by the children. However within minutes, like wild animals scenting smoke in the air, they would stiffen, quiver and dash for the letterbox to see if there was a letter for them.

More than kisses, letters mingle souls — John Donne

In our family writing letters to each other has become a wonderful tradition; a way of relating, sharing and connecting that runs beneath the surface chatter of our lives.

Some of the best things about the process are the unexpected insights that unfold with the letters. The glimpses into my children’s inner worlds, and their whole-hearted, often uncensored attempts to share their thoughts and feelings, wishes and worries.

I encourage you to begin a written conversation with the children in your life, today. It’s easy, fun, and so very rewarding. There are no real rules, just set up an indoor letterbox and start writing.

5 Benefits I Noticed

#1. Makes reading fun

Writing to my children helped make learning to read fun. Letters to preschoolers were brief, often just one sentence. Stick drawings, stickers, and using more pictures than words helped the page look colour-filled and inviting. Content was interesting because it was personalised and relevant to each child.

#2. A way to share feelings

Writing creates intimacy - it gives children a safe cocoon where they can sink into their emotions and begin to articulate how they feel, without interruption.

It was a surprise to discover that my kids would often share their thoughts and feelings more easily by writing about them than they would by talking. Sometimes a written note would break the ice and open a conversation, but not always.


letters have souls — Heloise

#3. Loving legacy

A wonderful by-product of our letter-writing is a colourful history of our early years as a family. Favourite treats, adored pets and longed for zoo visits were hot topics, as were reminders to the tooth fairy about the going rate for a molar! As time passed the children’s growing independence, changing interests and expanding world-views were reflected in their letters.

There is something wonderfully real and tactile about hand-written letters and cards. Compared to the uniformity of emails and texts – a letter has had life breathed into it. The writer’s energy lingers on the page. Hand-written notes are little treasures – something to be saved, savoured, and re-read.

#4. Complaints and hate mail

As well as sweet love letters and funny thank you notes, I’ve also been emotionally blackmailed [many times], received my share of written complaints, and even had a few offers of parental assistance. It helps to keep a sense of humour. These are a few examples:

‘Mum if you love me you’ll buy me Lego Ninja..’

‘This is and will always be the WORST DAY of my entier life’

‘I will have a bath if you bring me ice-cream’

Letter-writing is a healthy and creative way for children to express themselves when things don’t go their way. Although there were many times when I was tempted to post chore lists, manners reminders and hygiene commandments, my letters were mostly good news.

#5. Insurance policy

When my marriage ended, the children learned to adjust to living in two homes. The letter-writing continued; a great way for us to stay connected and for the kids to share their many feelings during the changing family landscape.

Our letter-writing habit has been a wonderful insurance policy – providing a simple way to keep the conversation flowing in tough times; through divorce, pet deaths, school bullying, blended family stresses and the challenges of puberty, to name a few.

It's Your Turn

The trick to getting this habit to stick is starting small and repeating often.

I recommend using small sheets of paper and little envelopes to keep expectations low and get the conversation flowing. Let the process evolve to become your own unique family ritual. My winning formula was:

  1. Plant a seed

  2. Ask a question

  3. Suggest they write back with their ideas

Here's how a letter might look:

Dear David

I’m thinking of getting some snacks for movie night. I will probably do carrot sticks and lettuce bites. Unless you prefer something else? If so, please write back.

Love Mum x

Tips and Tricks

  • Regardless of the age of your kids start writing now! It’s never too late.

  • Keep your letters short. The younger the child the shorter the letter.

  • Write to each child individually.

  • Keep it fun and playful.

  • It’s easier if you set up a mail depot, eg. a clip magnet for the kitchen fridge door, a repurposed toast rack, or a toy letterbox.

  • Start a collection of irresistable paper and stickers. We found the best supplies at our local Asian supermarket.

  • Have a variety of writing tools such as glitter pens, feather quills, or invisible ink.

P. S.

A letter can reaffirm a child’s greatness, accentuate their successes and reflect to them their amazing uniqueness. Writing to our children is not a substitute for verbal conversation, and while it can never replace big heart-to-heart hugs, it is a powerful way of connecting deeply with each of them.


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