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A handwritten note: a small gesture that speaks volumes

June 21, 2013

Last night, as it became clear that bedtime was just around the corner, my daughter started to cry. At three and a half, it is her life’s mission to negotiate or manipulate her way out of naptime and bedtime. Every day. Every night. It is exhausting.

I told her to put on her pajamas and brush her teeth, and the tears began to flow. Emotions continued to spiral steadily out of control, and as I’m getting her into bed, I asked her, “Would you like a special note?”

“Yes,” she said, the tears momentarily on pause.

“What kind of note would you like?” I asked.

“Ummm. A seal note!” she said with excitement.

“Okay, if you can go to bed like a big girl with no crying, you can have a seal note in the morning.”

“Okay,” she agreed.

And with that, she wiped the tears from her face with her Blankie, snuggled under the covers with her Lovie and several stuffed animals, and kissed me goodnight.

Over time, these “special notes” have become a tradition in our house. It started as a way to congratulate her for little things she accomplished or for obeying us when we asked her to do something. But, it turned out that this little gesture was huge for her.

Although she doesn’t read yet, she enjoys seeing the words written just for her, and she memorizes the messages from us. She revels in the affirmations these notes provide and delights in the adventure of waiting to see what the next one will look like. The promise of a “special note” motivates her and helps encourage the good behavior we desire.

The only problem is that over time, the notes have become a little too fancy for me. When it started, I made notes in the shape of a sunshine or a star or a rainbow. It soon became clear, though, that Daddy had a lot more creative ability in the note-making business, and he has taken over. She requests seals or dolphins, penguins or sharks, and he makes it happen. He has written notes in the form of pirate ships, ballerinas, airplanes and sailboats, too.

Beyond the fun and playfulness of it, though, there is a real value in providing these notes for her. They provide a way for us to encourage good behavior from her, rather than only punishing her for bad behavior. It challenges her to strive for a goal and grow into her next phase of development as she reaches for a tangible reward. The reward is meaningful to her, and it keeps us from using food or material things as a prize.

It also provides a way for us as her parents to connect with her, tell her we are proud of her and show her our love. When she is faced with a difficult obstacle, such as being away from us when we travel, she has a reminder of our love that she can hold in her hand and take with her everywhere she goes. It gives her the security of knowing we will always be there.

I don’t know yet how these “special notes” will evolve as she grows. I hope that it is the beginning of a life-long dialogue that knits our family together. I look forward to the day when I might wake in the morning to find the surprise of a “special note” from my girl.

I’m pretty sure, though, that I won’t be requesting any notes in the shape of wild animals or sea creatures. Just a simple “I love you” will do.