I had an idea last year while I was changing the kid’s calendar to February. I love Valentine’s Day, doing fun things as a kid was always a highlight for me. Creating cool mailboxes out of cardboard or leftover cereal containers was one of my favorite memories. So when I looked at their empty applesauce box with a cut-out opening, I thought, “That would make a great mailbox!”
I set out to find some cute scrapbook paper at the craft store in the theme of Valentine’s and writing, and just used their construction paper to cover the box. Part of this process was also to model how they could use their own art supplies and recycled materials. Also why I hand-lettered the label instead of printing from the computer.
Then I saw their primary journal. I thought, “How cool would it be for them to wake up, or come home from school to “love notes” from Mommy to get them into the season.” I can only draw stick figures, so I went with that and added a bit of color. I focused on expressing one attribute, quality, or action that I appreciate about them or want to see more of. I also modeled the kind of lettering they practice on the lines.
Beyond the Note
What started out as a fun idea developed into so much more. These are the things I saw come out of such a simple task:
Words of Affirmation
I set out to write encouraging notes to my kids, to focus on one thing at a time that I had observed recently in their personality, abilities, new hobbies, and things they were interested in. I tried to express appreciation for the little person they were in that moment, not necessarily who I wanted them to be. Their faces LIT UP. Not only did they feel extra special for getting “mail” personalized to them, but they got to see on paper exactly what their Mama saw in them.
[bctt tweet=”I tried to express appreciation for the little person they were in that moment, not necessarily who I wanted them to be.” username=”@PracticalFamily”]
This is why I drew a picture. Kids still think very concretely about things, they’re learning about how the world works and when I try to explain abstract concepts like character in action and integrity, it seems to absorb much better with a concrete, pictorial answer. This part actually intimidated me at first because I’m so not artistic! I began to put pressure on myself to communicate all my feelings in one picture. “Stop, Jenn,” I told myself. “All they need are sticks… they’ll get it.”
And they did. Each time they would open a new envelope, they ran to post it on any blank wall they could find, and the pictures stayed there for a few months. They sat down to breakfast or dinner every day, look at them and smile, and then start talking about the things they do, and how they treat people. This visual reminder spurred them forward and reinforced the behavior.
I wanted to reinforce attitudes and actions that Daddy and I wanted to see more of. It’s difficult to teach perseverance and good sportsmanship when they haven’t experienced enough to support their fragile emotions and egos. Last year was the first big push into organized sports and activities, and they wanted to give up a lot at the beginning. Those scenarios flooded my mind and I knew I had to draw about that.
[bctt tweet=”It’s difficult to teach perseverance and good sportsmanship when they haven’t experienced enough to support their fragile emotions and egos.” username=”@PracticalFamily”]
The stick figure representation that came from that even surprised me because so many of my own emotions were communicated. The pride I felt for my son when he hit the ball off the tee, and the disappointment when my daughter wouldn’t greet me right away after school (she was often upset about not being first in the lunch line, and it ruined her whole day). It was my way of gently nudging them to “see” – to realize how much their attitudes made a difference. I didn’t want to guilt them into loving me, of course, but to be aware of what things look like from another perspective – outside of themselves.
It occurred to me later that while I was modeling creativity and writing, I was also modeling encouragement. It is truly a learned skill to give someone positive affirmation. My marriage has taught me that 100%. We’re not always aware of the things that we need from others until our attitudes begin to reflect the deficit. With my kids, I began to see harsh reactions to disappointment and disrespect. Instead of coming down hard on them and communicating more disappointment in their attitudes, these notes helped me to reinforce the positive, remind them that I believe the best, and they have more control over themselves than they thought!
[bctt tweet=”We’re not always aware of the things that we need from others until our attitudes begin to reflect the deficit.” username=”@Practical Family”]
I began to see changed in their attitudes immediately. Looking at the love notes every day spurred conversation within our family, their demeanors changed, and I saw them think through their actions based on what they saw on the notes. They began to live according to what the notes said! Chloe embraced her singing and dance more than ever, and Asher takes time to finish his homework and problem solve, knowing that I’m proud of him for doing it. His writing has also improved dramatically, and he has since begun creating his own containers from recycled materials and hand-lettering his own projects.
After a few days, Chloe made her own version for me… and then Asher started making them. He made a love note for everyone in our family and even friends in our apartment building. This followed for weeks and weeks, little notes to express how they were feeling. Asher struggles to get Chloe to play with him and he wrote her a note about that… “I love when you play Logos with me… it makes me happy.” This went on through the rest of the year. Love notes started to pop up here and there. Asher would hide in his room to write a special note for one of us and it made them especially happy when we posted them in a prominent place in the house or by our desks. They even started mailing them to grandparents on the mainland.
The Lunch Box Love Note
The other day, I decided to write just a quick note to put in their lunch box. That evening I discovered that Asher had forgotten to empty his bag and I opened the box to find a soggy wet note! What it said was, “My Precious Man, I hope you have a wonderful day at school. I love you very much and I believe in you. Love Mom.”
He was already asleep and I was about to throw it away and ask him in the morning what he thought about it. But I turned it over and saw that he had actually written back to me:
Translated: “Dear Mommy, I never had a paper in my lunch box but this is my first time having one. This is the best day ever.”
How can you sew seeds of appreciation, gratitude, and affirmation in the heart of your child? Maybe in the heart of your spouse? Could you start a family mailbox today? With the holidays coming up and the season of Thankfulness upon us, what better time.
Share you family love moments!