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I’m a fresh father (4 months old daughter) and I’m sometimes visualising the future.

I was thinking of implementing a system for when she’ll be a little older (7+ years old) in which:

  • she posts a thought in a box on a piece of paper (I expect mostly questions)
  • I secretely take the piece of paper
  • I respond in some way (supporting, explaining, etc.) and replace her piece of paper with mine without her ever knowing.

This system should offer her a friend whom she can trust and rely on in case she gets mad at us, or whenever.

However:

  1. I’m thinking she might already be old enough to figure out such tricks
  2. I’m worried that when she’ll be even older she might feel I tricked her into sharing private thoughts that I was never meant to know.

What are your thoughts on this idea? Does it need any adjustments?

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    I used a clay jar with all my kids, but it was for me. When they hit a certain age for some reason, they were unbearable for a couple of years. Then I started every day to put a very narrow strip of paper stating "one of the million reasons I love you", listing something very specific that was kind, thoughtful, brave, or otherwise commendable. It made me feel more loving (and less guilty) when they were being difficult. – anongoodnurse Jan 27 '18 at 20:13
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I think your worry is justified. This isn't like Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy, where you are simply a passive supporter of a well meaning lie. You are thinking of actively deceiving your daughter.

It might work if you make it very easy for her to figure out that it is you "behind" the box, and that you never meant for her not to know. It's a little like role play, where people pretend to be someone other than themselves in order to work out problems and experience situations that they don't want to face directly.

If you implement your box this way, it is like you are giving her permission to express her anger or frustrations, and promising her that there will be no repercussions. It would also give you time to think about things before you respond to what might potentially be an emotionally charged situation.

It's an interesting idea. Don't expect it to have any deeply meaningful purpose, but I don't see any harm in playing "magic box", as long as you keep the explanation so fanciful that when she gets a little older she won't have any trouble figuring it out. Maybe you could discuss with her what sort of magical creatures might be in the box. Fairies, maybe, or trolls (fairies give nice answers, trolls are grumpy). Show an interest in what comes out of the box. Give her the opportunity to share the message with you. Share her story. Exercise her imagination.

But don't, please, pretend to be a "real" friend in a deceitful way. It is similar in practice, though I'm sure not in intent, of adults who pose as children in order to befriend children on the internet. Some of them may have good motives, but I don't think such deceit is ever a good idea.

  • Wow! Great feedback and adjustment! Thank you. I love it :) – Adelin Jan 29 '18 at 5:36
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I’m just chiming in to add another aspect about a similar situation.

A few years ago, a toy company advertised “Sorgenfresser” (literally “sorrow munchers”), little cute plush toy monsters with a huge mouth that could be zipped up. Both our children wanted and got one.

Our younger daughter (about six at the time) used and still sometimes uses hers to deposit a slip of paper with what she worries about. Interestingly, she always chose topics that don’t have a straight answer, but are rather complex.
Examples: being “different” as the youngest and smallest child in her class, yet the one with the best grades or worrying about getting homesick during a three-day school outing.

Sometimes she also brought up the topic with me or her dad, sometimes not. What she got in response was then a note with the “Sorgenfresser’s perspective” - and that could differ from what she’d expect us parents to answer. The answer could be a new angle to look at the situation or sometimes just an acknowledgement of her worries with a friendly encouragement. The Sorgenfresser was not a magician that made a situation disappear, just a supporting toy friend. For the homesickness example above, it said that a bit is ok and admitted its own worry that it might feel homesick too while accompanying her on the trip, but that it felt comforted knowing that she would be there. And that it hoped the other stuffed animals wouldn’t be jealous as they had to stay at home.

I don’t think that she was or felt “tricked”, but that she used it as way to express herself when she didn’t want to openly talk to us parents. I think for her it was a bit like when we adults write our worries in a diary, only with a bit of feedback.

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I see a view problems here. The first, as you said she will likely find out, that you are behind this. Be it via recognizing the handwriting, or just catching you, accidentally.

The second, the communication possibilities of such a box are be very limited, you can give an answer, but you can't hold a conversation, if the topic might be a bit more difficult.

As a third, you replace a trustful relationship towards her, with that box. If would be better if she would have the trust in you, to ask you directly for help or talk to you over problems she has. Such a box might actually drive her away from you.

Fourth, what is if she writes about a big problem, that asks for direct action, like she got in contact with a stranger, that might be dangerous, of she plans her first tries at making out, Would you try to continue to fix that over the box, or reveal yourself and get into a trust issue, that distracts from the far bigger issue?

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    Fourth [...] plans her first tries at making out - I very much doubt that a teenager at that age would still believe in a “magic box” instead of having long figured out the mechanism. – Stephie Jan 27 '18 at 21:42
  • Thank you! Indeed there are these risks. Also, I'm aiming to achieve the 3rd point - to trust me directly - however I'm also preparing a plan B - just in case. – Adelin Jan 29 '18 at 5:42
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The reasons that it is a bad idea to trick your child with this have been clearly laid out in other answers, and I agree with their summation: It Will Backfire.

However, I don't think the idea is unsalvageable. If you set the wish box up so your child CLEARLY knows that YOU will be reading and responding to the questions, then it could be a way for your daughter to ask questions she may not be comfortable asking face to face. It should be set up as a place she can ask random questions that pop into her head when you are not around, or questions she may not be comfortable discussing in person.

Especially when starting puberty, she may feel embarrassed to ask certain questions, but establishing this system of dropping questions in a box may be slightly more comfortable.

I personally always had problems forming and organizing my thoughts when talking to someone directly. When writing, I had the time to really distill my question to the true essence of what I wanted to know. This option would have allowed me to ask my parents things that I ended up keeping to myself.

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This system should offer her a friend whom she can trust and rely on in case she gets mad at us, or whenever.

Your thoughtfulness and concern makes me feel like you will be a good parent. Communicating openly and honestly with your kids is important. You can set a solid foundation of communication with your kids by trying hard to always be truthful with them. They will learn to trust you for that.

When they are older and misbehaving and you have to scold them or punish them, make sure they know that you love them unconditionally. In that way, they learn that they don't have to be defensive around you, that you will treat them fairly, and forgiveness is always within reach.

And when you lose your temper and yell at them and say things that you regret, you should apologize quickly. That helps show them the path out of anger and back to reasonable conversation. Also that we're all fallible.

If you are consistent with this, you teach them to

  • trust instead of mistrust
  • to apologize instead of holding onto guilt
  • to forgive instead of holding onto anger.

With those tools you've given them, there should be no need for a special friend box. You are the special friend.

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