Communicate with Children Wisely Through the Power of Writing Notes

Boy playing with legos

By Joseph Sacks, LCSW

When a problem arises or there is some form of misbehavior, you can communicate with children most effectively by writing a note.

Haim Ginott, famed psychologist from the 1960’s and later his students Faber and Mazlish, developed this idea and I’ve added elucidation.

Hand the child a piece of paper saying, “Billy, I see candy wrappers left on the couch,” and you will be amazed to see the results. Hang a note in the bathroom saying, “Wet towels should be hung up to dry,” and you will be pleasantly surprised at the outcome. Writing is much more than just a convenient way to store and send information, it is an extremely effective, wise and respectful method of communicating with children. Writing lends tremendous importance to your message. It gives a sense of permanence to your words. It displays tremendous consideration and forethought for the reader. Writing is much less confrontational, so it greatly reduces resistance and opposition.

Moreover, taking time to write a note allows your passions to cool so you can communicate with children with a clear mind and organize your thoughts.

It demonstrates so much respect for the reader, that the pleasure she gets from this inspires her to comply with the message. There is tremendous power invested in the written word! 

We need to use the advantage of the written word in raising our children. Even children who can't read are flattered by the thoughtfulness and attention of receiving a note, so they may ask what is written in it. They may thus be motivated to comply. Notes allow the recipient to save face as children don’t feel criticized or bossed as they would in person. A note preserves the recipient’s ego, makes him feel important and inspires him to comply. Notes bring out the best in us and prevent arguments. So the next time you have something important to say and are unsure how to proceed, consider a note. 

Communicate with children through good, old pen and paper!

Girl smiling hugging herself

Take advantage of emails and text messages - they are great, but sometimes you just can't beat good old pen and paper, or a chalkboard hung up on the fridge. The more effort it takes to write the note the more effective the message. You may put the note in an envelope to lend it importance. Even consider licking a stamp and mailing a letter and you will be amazed at the effectiveness, as the effort and official nature of such correspondence makes it all the more powerful. The same communication rules I write about elsewhere apply to notes. Express your feelings, your values and your expectations in your notes. Provide information about what needs to be done. Don't criticize, blame, insult, lecture or give orders.
For example, you may attach a note to the TV which says, “Before turning me on kindly take note of all those toys on the floor.” Put a note on the kitchen door that reads, “Kitchen closed, no snacking from five until dinner.” Tape a note on your bedroom door, “Shhh… mommy is napping.” Write a note saying, “I am furious! I bought a box of donuts for dessert and someone ate all of them and didn't leave me even one!” Send a letter saying, “I am writing to enlist your cooperation. When my tools are taken out and not put away in their proper place I feel frustrated, upset and angry. Kindly either return them immediately when you're done or don't borrow them at all!” One wise mother flew a paper airplane into the bedroom with the admonition: “Toys away after play,” written on it. The children laughed and cleaned up. Write a note saying, “I am writing to express my feelings about what happened this morning. I feel hurt, upset and angry at the way you spoke to me. I feel it was very disrespectful and it hurt my feelings. If you have a problem I expect you to communicate it to me in a polite, respectful way, then I will be much more likely to accommodate you.” Write a note to one sibling saying, "You and your brother seem to be fighting often lately. I feel concerned about the situation. I would appreciate your advice or suggestions about how to resolve the issue. I am here to listen to your complaints or concerns," and you'll be surprised of the wonderful response you get. Write a note to your child saying, “When you are angry at your brother please use words, not fists.” If two children are having a major argument, have each one write down his side of the story with all the details, including any solutions they can think up, then read them back to them and brainstorm for a plan of action. Send a note, “I know you're busy but the dishwasher needs unloading.”  There’s one great story of a mother who taped a note to the bathroom mirror saying, “Help! Hairs in my drain give me a pain, glug,” and signed: ‘Your stopped up sink.’

See my interesting post: How to get kids to clean up, here.

Boy laying down between play railroad tracks

Notes are so subtle and effective that by using them you can get away with more direct requests. By the way, notes between spouses are also excellent and highly recommended.
Love can only be taught lovingly, compassion can only be taught compassionately, and politeness can only be taught politely. Teaching a child to be nice cannot be done through a heavy hand. Writing notes is a great way to achieve these lofty goals. 

Please be advised that the above represents a parenting ideal, and no one should expect to fulfill it perfectly. So have patience with yourself and try to implement new ideas gradually.
Feel free to peruse the rest of my interesting blog, the specialties on my website, or download one of my informative free reports. If you would like more tips on how to communicate with children from a child psychotherapist in lower Manhattan, you may call me at 646-681-1707 for a free 15-minute consultation. I look forward to speaking with you!

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