In this podcast (episode #488) and blog, I talk about something fun and mentally challenging you can do with your children this summer: letter writing! This is part of my summer series on brain-building activities you can do with your children to help them build up their mental resilience and manage their mental health while having fun.
These days, it’s so much easier and faster to send a text message, email or e-card than it is to sit down and actually write on a card or craft a letter. However, there are several downsides to more modern forms of communication. It is often easy to misinterpret what is being said—the tone and intent often gets lost in a text or email; it can feel impersonal and can create false expectations regarding response times.
These forms of communicating can lead to a potential erosion of writing and language skills, especially with features like spelling and grammar auto-correct, which can be particularly challenging for children. We can quickly lose the amazing brain-building benefits of taking the time to think deeply about what we are trying to say and why, which is an important part of brain development.
However, sending a written card or letter shows someone that you have taken the time to craft something special just for them—it shows you care on a deeper level, helping build a more meaningful connection. This is true for both adults and children, and it is a great way to improve our relationships and wellbeing. Not only is it like receiving a special, thoughtful gift, it’s also easier to understand the writer’s intentions, and it helps us practice and maintain our handwriting and language skills.
Letter or card writing is also a great way to redirect energy from toxic stress, and is a great way to let off steam, remind ourselves what we have to be grateful for in the moment, and help us sort out our thoughts and emotions when dealing with a relationship issue. The effort it takes to think about what you want to write as well as the act of communicating how you feel is a healthy challenge, helping your brain and body respond in a more positive way. For example, it can increase your heart rate and blood flow as well as oxygenate your blood so that you are more prepared to do what needs to be done. (This is the opposite of what happens when you’re threatened or in a state of toxic stress, as I spoke about in a recent podcast.) As you face a healthy challenge like letter-writing, your adrenal gland gives you a shot of cortisol to increase your energy in the moment, but then your brain quickly shuts off cortisol secretion when the challenge is over. This is a robust, healthy kind of stress, similar to the kind you may have when you exercise.
For children, brain-building (or “thinking things out”) through letter-writing helps them learn how to make more accurate decisions and focus on a task. It is also associated with better brain aging and a reduced risk of developing dementia later on in life for people of all ages.
Here are some ideas for types of letters you can write with your children:
-Encourage your child to write a letter or card to their friend or loved one telling them about something that they just learned at school or are interested in. Explain to them that during the 18th and 19th centuries, letters were used to self-educate. The main purposes of letters were to send information, news and greetings—learning about this while writing a letter is a fun way to teach them about history.
-Teach your child to practice critical reading skills through letter-writing. Encourage your child to read about something and then write about it (and if they are younger, you can help them read something and write the letter with them). You can create a group amongst your friends to exchange these letters and encourage your children to communicate with others about what they are reading and learning.
-Encourage your child to write a letter or card as a form of self-expressive writing. This will help them get to know themselves better and what they do and do not like, which is a great identity-building exercise.
For more on the brain benefits of teaching your children letter writing, listen to my podcast (episode #488). If you enjoy listening to my podcast, please consider leaving a 5-star review and subscribing. And keep sharing episodes with friends and family and on social media. (Don’t forget to tag me so I can see your posts!).
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0:43 Why we should practice brain-building with our children
1:40, 8:00 Letter-writing versus texting & emailing
3:20 What brain-building is & why it is important
4:30, 8:25, 13:00, 15:20 Why letter-writing is so great for our brain health
11:10 Good stress vs. healthy stress
16:00, 22:55 Letter-writing activities you can do with children
This podcast and blog are for educational purposes only and are not intended as medical advice. We always encourage each person to make the decision that seems best for their situation with the guidance of a medical professional.