Are you connected with your loved ones? Do your kids talk to you about their feelings? Does your family set aside regular and routine time to talk and connect without electronics?
This is a struggle many families face today. With technology being so widely accessible, families can often not even realize that they are connecting to their screens, but not to each other. What can we do to foster and facilitate genuine connection and conversation with our children, family members, and significant others?
Authentic Relationships Built On Trust
Kat Rowan says that she has found a way that works. Kat is the founder and Creative Director of TiffinTalk, and says that her company offers a unique way to facilitate conversation between parents and children. More specificially, Kat wanted to help children develop and maintain critical and creative thinking skills in helping all people talk to one another directly, without technology as an intermediary. The result was TiffinTalk, a company that makes daily cards that encourage people to talk to each other, that began with more than 4000 homemade lunch notes for her daughters.
Kat explains, “It’s really amazing to me, and it still is amazing, the power of talk. There is so much research out there, that points to the addictive behaviors that we’re having with technology and how it is interfering with our empathy and our personal relationships because we’re not talking. A text message is not talking.”
Honesty Helps Build Connection
Connection is a basic human need and having connected relationships gives way to authentic honesty and vulnerability, which is essential in feeling unconditionally loved and developing empathy and other social skills. Anne, founder of Betrayal Trauma Recovery, said her children love anticipating the cards for the next day and collecting them throughout the week.
Anne goes on to describe her experience using the cards with her son, saying, “He absolutely loved it. He wanted to talk about how he’s a little bit lonely and he’d like to change that. I didn’t have any advice for him, I just said I’m not sure, what do you think you would do? I didn’t realize how excited they would be to really talk about things and how it would foster openness and sharing.”
Kat adds, “Every child deserves one-on-one time with their parent, even if we can’t do it every day and we have to just squeeze it in, but where we turn off our technology. I say no pings, no rings, no dings. Just taking a few minutes with that child and giving them your full attention is so important. You really learn so much about them.”
Why Open Conversation Is Important
During this Christmas or Hanukkah or holiday season, whatever it is for you, if you’re looking for awesome meaningful gifts for your kids, I encourage you to go to TiffinTalk.com, and also check out our books page. We’ve just redesigned it. We have so many books on our page that are really helpful for children and they’re excellent gifts for Christmas. Like Good pictures/Bad Pictures, and Good Pictures/Bad Pictures Jr, and How to Talk to Your Kids About Pornography, and 30 days of Sex Talks. You can find all of the books that we have recommend here.
A big giant thank you to all of you who donated for GivingTuesday. We really, really appreciate it. If you missed supporting Betrayal Trauma Recovery on Tuesday, please donate today. Each donation helps women find us who may be isolated in their trauma find hope and healing.
Anne: Welcome to Betrayal Trauma Recovery, this is Anne. I have Kat Rowan, the founder and Creative Director of TiffinTalk on the podcast today. TiffinTalk is a company that makes cards that encourage people to talk to each other, starting with more than 4000 lunch notes for her daughters. Kat graduated from Wellesley with degrees in mathematics and psychology before going on to work as an educator, administrator, and consultant to major corporations.
As an educator she taught classes, led departments, and founded programs in high schools and universities; both in the United States and Internationally. Kat’s belief in the power of talk comes from her personal challenges in finding her own voice and daring to be heard. Her specific interests are in children’s understating of mental health, and in the case of TiffinTalk, not only helping children develop and maintain critical and creative thinking skills but in helping all people talk to one another directly, without technology as an intermediary. I’m so excited! I always love new tools that I can use in my home to increase the overall mental health of my home. So Kat, how did TiffinTalk get started?
Conversation With Parents Help Foster Trust
Kat: I’m not even sure if it started or emerged really. My girls, I’ll never forget the first day that my oldest got on the school bus and I watched it pull away and I thought: oh wait, I still have things I have to talk to her about, and I started writing notes for her for lunch. They were notes that were more than just: have a special day, you’re incredible. So, it was really important for me to be able to have conversation with my daughters that were more meaningful. Because my older daughter was a: how was your day, fine kind of kid. I really couldn’t get much out of her. As my younger daughter started school she was the: how was your day and she would look at me and say well it was a 6-hour day mom. And she’d start with the school bus driver said and it would go on until the school bus driver waved goodbye and it would be about 6-hours in length, if felt that way, about her day and I really didn’t learn anything more from the fine daughter then I did from the 6-hour descriptive daughter. So, the notes became a way for us to have conversations about things other than school.
Little by little they turned into weekly themed notes. Why? Because frankly I was lazy. I was writing them notes and having so many questions and I thought: Well I can’t scribble this all in one day, so I might as well spread it out for the week. And that became very important in our relationship because one Monday’s note would feed into Tuesday’s, would feed into Wednesday’s. They began to look forward to how it was going to relate to the next day and what we were then going to talk about.
And if we saved a couple notes, because frankly, I don’t know about your family, but our family’s busy and it gets crazy, and we’re real, and we don’t talk every single day. So, if we saved a couple notes, because they have that weekly theme, I could just say grab your cards, we’re on our to a cello lesson and lets read them in the car, and they made sense because they would feed off of one another and we could have those longer conversations.
Connection To Family Members Is Essential For Growth
Anne: So, you were writing these notes to your kids every day for how long?
Kat: I started when they were in kindergarten and we didn’t finish until they graduated high school, and it was such a shock to me because I asked them every year, sometimes with a small prayer in the back of my head because my hand was getting cramped, I was writing on construction paper. I was drawing pictures of stick figures because I’m not that artistic, and I was asking them every time the school year rolled around again, do you really want to do these notes? And every single time, yes, yes please, please don’t forget to include the notes.
My oldest took them to school with them all the way through high school. They would talk about them sometimes at the lunch table. I’d get calls from the teachers saying where do I get these. I would be puzzled that construction paper notes, what do you mean where do you get them? The kids are still talking about it. We’re having a huge discussion on whether we should raise the titanic why or why not.
And my younger one, when we returned from living overseas, and she hit middle school here in the States, which should be illegal. Middle school is such a challenging time of life for anybody and she left her notes in the refrigerator every morning, right next to the milk which she’d grab for her cereal. So, she’d read it and put it back in the refrigerator. We’d talk about it either at the end of the day or we’d save it up for a couple of days.
Honesty Helps Build Connection
Funny enough, my daughter was helping out at conferences, she’d graduated from high school and was on her way to college, and she heard me describe how my girls would save the notes up, especially as they got older and busier, and she pulled me aside when there wasn’t anybody around, she goes mom, mom. I said what. She said: But we used to do that on purpose. You used to do what on purpose. We used to save the notes on purpose. What do you mean you used to save the notes on purpose? That way we could have a longer conversation with you.
It was really special and when the time came that we decided to take all those construction paper notes that I had done with them, and I asked them: do you want to make this into something? They said yes right away and out of closets and under beds, and places that I didn’t even know, came shoe boxes with every single card I had ever written for them. So that note, that just said love mom on it, really made an impact on their lives and certainly on my life.
Anne: That’s amazing. Now, you have these cards that people can buy, they come in a box, it has 5 cards per week. Kat sent me 3 boxes for my children. I open it up, I write them a note on there, and then where a normal card would say like Happy Birthday, you’re the best son ever! Instead of saying something like that, it says what kind of kid are you? What kind do you want to be? How do you change who you are? And why would you change?
Honesty Can Foster Trust
He absolutely loved it. He wanted to talk about how He’s a little bit lonely and he’d like to change that. I didn’t have any advice for him, I just said I’m not sure, like what do you think you would do. I didn’t realize how excited they would be to really talk about things, and I thought when I first got the boxes that they were going to be like whatever mom, I want to go play Minecraft. But that was not the case. They were like immediately excited about it and they really would like to talk, and I think that we discount any ones; our children’s or our significant other or our family and friends, there true desire to connect on a deep level through talking.
Kat: It’s really amazing to me, and it still is amazing, the power of talk. There is so much research out there, that points to the addictive behaviors that we’re having with technology and how it is interfering with our empathy and our personal relationships because we’re not talking. A text message is not talking.
My daughter came to me crying at one point because the person she was texting stopped texting and she wasn’t sure what that meant. Did that mean that they were mad at her, you know, and I said to her: I don’t know, maybe they got called for dinner, maybe they went on to talk to somebody more important or they thought was more important. Maybe they got ran over by a bus because they were looking down instead of up. I don’t know. But when you give somebody a card and it’s tangible, and it has their name on it, it is amazing the response you get.
Connection Can Be Easy And Fun
Because the theme changes every week one week maybe they’re not so interested in that topic, but they’ll go through it with you. Then next week really lights them up and then the next week is a silly week and the next week is a thought provoking week. As you noticed on the backs of all our cards are fun facts and trivia and the fronts of all our cards have the puzzle pieces, so that they resolve by Friday’s card, so they kind of guess every day there is a different part of the puzzle missing and can they guess what it’s going to be by Friday.
So, I like to call this my vegetable soup line, TiffinTalk has several different lines, but my child & teen cards are really like vegetable soup because there is so much good in it, and the mushrooms are cut up so tiny that they have no idea.
Parents and guardians and foster parents and teachers are now using these, and speech therapists are now using these because of that tangible effect because kids are neurodiverse and I don’t know a child or adult who isn’t neurodiverse in some way. When they have that card, and if you could see my hands as I’m rubbing my fingertips together to hold, whether it’s from you as mom or from a grandparent or the speech therapist, it is so incredibly meaningful. It’s not more homework. It’s not something that they have to do. It’s a way they really just connect.
Why Connection Helps Build Healthy Skills
There is 13 weeks in a box to kind of keep you going and it really is a shortcut to you having to create your own cards every morning when you’re sleep deprived and haven’t had your coffee, but you could certainly do that. I’ve taken the hard work out of it, kind of handed it to you and said here try this. It’s just a constant reminder that we don’t often give to our kids.
Anne: Yeah. I want to say to my audience, now that I have these 3 boxes and I have 13 weeks for each child, why in the world would I write my own cards when I can have you write them for me, and then I can write a little note inside.
It was funny, when I first got the boxes, they’re so beautiful and I was nervous to write on the card, because I was like: Ahhhh you know I might want to use this later or whatever. But then I thought: No, no, no I can write a note on each one and then when these are done then I can get a new box.
Kat: Hopefully your kids are decorating the heck out of their box, because it’s their box and you just buy the next season whenever you’re ready. I always encourage parents to give a card every day. There is space at the top of the card, a blank space like most cards have on one side or the other. That space is called the parent cheat sheet because it’s a space that you can use to remind yourself that your son has that math test, so good luck on your math test! and Oh by the way, here is the question of the day, and have fun on the field trip. Because how many times do our kids go to bed at night and look at you and go: You never asked me about the math test, and you’re going: Oh cripe! Now I’m saving for therapy instead of college.
Anne: For me to write a card every day is like so beyond my capabilities, that this actually enables me to be a better parent in a way that I never ever could by myself.
Conversations Do Not Have To Be Difficult Or Forced
Kat: I’m so thrilled for you! And so, a lot of people are going say but why do I have to have different cards for each kid? It’s because they are age appropriate, that’s one thing. It’s because every child deserves one-on-one time with their parent, even if we can’t do it every day and we have to just squeeze it in. Where we turn off our technology, I say no pings, no rings, no dings. You know, you don’t want to be glancing down at your phone when it vibrates and it’s an ad for cyber Monday or whatever was going on and you’ve basically just said to your child well that ad was more important than whatever you were saying.
So, if you could just take a few minutes with that child and just give them your full attention, you will find out, because the content is open ended, because there is no right or wrong, because we give our kids finally a chance that they don’t get at school, especially as they get older, to just be brilliant. You really learn so much about them. As you did about your son and as I did about my girls when the family divorced. It wasn’t just my divorce, we divorced. It was a way to know what was going on without saying: How are things with dad, you know. It was a way to be able to talk about school, about their life with their father, about things going on in their lives without actually coming out and saying: What’s going on. So, the question might be 5 uses for a ladder that don’t involve climbing, and the next thing you know you’re talking about something entirely different because you’ve opened up the potential to talk.
Anne: Yeah, you’ve made a space for it. Just, for example, I would say Dear Son, I love you so much. I hope you have a great day, whatever, on the top, and then this one says: What would a perfect day be like? What would the perfect weather be like? And what would you do on this perfect day? And he was very excited to just imagine what that would be and tell me all about it. I thought: How fun is this! It’s a way to engage his imagination rather than saying how was your day? I’d just get a fine, it was fine.
Why Talking Is So Important
Kat: What was the super most fantastic part of your day, because we’ve been told as parents we should use lots of superlatives, and basically the answer comes down to recess, you know, you really don’t get much out of that. Kids are smart, they’re on to you, and in fact they may look at the cards and go really? But I tell you what, when you don’t give a card one day, where’s my card? I do tell parents it doesn’t keep bad things from happening. It just means that when something goes amiss you don’t have a child who looks at you and says: You never bothered talking to me before, why should I bother talking to you now? Now, we’ve been talking. I’m here and I’m listening.
We’ve been talking the fun talks and we can talk the silly talks and we can talk during the thought provoking ones. We’ve been all over the board. And I discovered because each child has their own card, even if the questions may be similar (and there is 6 different age groups from pre-school to high school) there are 700 different themes and there are over 4000 different questions. So, every card is different, no question gets repeated, the themes are repeated. When you do them one-on-one with your children separately, you may discover that you have completely different kids who think incredibly differently. Verses some families who do them around the dinner table, which is perfectly fine, but you get a lot of: What he said is fine, can I go now? You don’t get the one-on-one, real conversation that lead to the deeper discussions that you’re really trying to seek out with your kids.
Anne: Well, I am extremely grateful for this tool. I am amazed that you created such a useful and meaningful tool that is not an app, it’s a physical old school card that you can put in your child’s lunchbox or that you can put under their pillow.
Texting Is Not A Replacement For Connection
Kat: Use it as a treasure hunt for little kids, they love that. I’ve had a lot of people, because you mentioned an app, I’ve had a lot of people say: Why don’t you design this as an app? I think Anne, you know you’ve used them, if you used as an app you’d get the response that my daughter asked me about when her friend didn’t text back. If mom doesn’t text back, if dad doesn’t text back, or your child doesn’t text back does that mean they’re not interested or they just get distracted?
You can’t experience the light in their eyes. You can’t see their face as they describe the answer to the card and then go on to talk about something that’s going on in school or describe that they’re lonely.
Anne: Well, the other issue is even if the card were on an app and it wasn’t a card, and you’re like: Okay, lets sit down and “read the card on this app” you could get a text in that moment. You couldn’t set your phone aside because it would be on your phone. So, the fact that it’s a physical card that you can use and put your phone somewhere else, that is the whole point of it. So, an app would defeat the purpose.
Screen Free Time Helps To Foster Connection
Kat: It’s the difference between the e-card to a hand-written card that might arrive in the mail or be tucked under your pillow, or just surprised somewhere. It is so amazing to see how kids react. Even the tweens and the teens who, you know, aren’t used to talking because they slowly but surely give into this concept of I’m going to talk with you, and I care. It’s a little tougher to start with the older kids when you haven’t been doing it, but there is a tremendous amount of relief. We get a lot of feedback from parents and from educators about how grateful they are. It really engages the children on so many different levels.
Anne: Kat has so many amazing products and services that can help you really connect with your children and with your loved ones. You can find those on her website tiffintalk.com. Kat, what does Tiffin mean, why did you name it TiffinTalk?
Kat: Tiffin is actually an Indian lunch pail. You’ll see them stocked up in different areas in the pail overall for your curries, and then your bread is kept separate so that we don’t end up with that soggy bologna sandwich that we do in the states. They have it figured out. When I looked into creating the company and I realized it was about lunch notes, and I talked to people about lunch notes, I had so many people, globally especially, who were like well what’s a lunch note? I’m thinking: Notes for the lunch, lunch note, and it just didn’t add up to them. So, we thought: Oh! the heck with it! Google can be Google and nobody knows what a google is. You know, Yahoo can be Yahoo! I can be TiffinTalk, which brings in the alliteration, but more fun. It brings in the globalization because we are an international company and we are selling overseas because the concept of talking face-to-face, one-on-one is important world-wide. From those lunch notes, and we are looking into actually doing a reverse line called ask me anything, for kids to ask their parents and guardians questions.
Sharing Feelings Is Important For Development
Anne: These would make great gifts. So, I wanted to have her on during this holiday season for those of you who are like: Man, I want to have some meaningful gifts this year. This is something that I would highly recommend and I’m looking forward to using it all year. It’s the gift that keeps on giving, right. It’s a really amazing tool and gift to give to your children. The gift of really caring about them.
Kat: Thank you, thank you. It really is, and when you look at it not so much as a program but as a resource. A resource that can help you connect with your kids. It’s really that simple, and the kids will guide you. They’ll tell you. They’re crazy and they’re amazing. I love every age and every stage.
Anne: They are. It’s also helped me really be grateful for my children and their individual differences. My daughter who is in pre-school, she can’t quite read, but the cards for her are just perfect. Like: Cat and that rhyme with hat, and then it says can you make a silly sentence with all three rhyming words? And as we did that, we just kind of laughed at each other and talked and giggled and made funny faces, and it really was a way to connect with her, in a way that she cared about. In a way that made sense to her, rather than asking her how was your day? You know, as a four-year-old, she’d be like: Ummm, I don’t know.
Unconditional Love Is Vital For Health
Kat: Right, or she’d be telling you the 6-hour version of it.
Anne: Exactly, or she just says stuff that didn’t make sense. Well, the unicorn went up the chimney and then
Kat: And that’s awesome because, you know, you find cards where she can create those unicorn stories still with you, but they never end. All the way through high school, so themes as I said there’s 700 themes, could be about banking from pre-school to high school, you know, we could do that. But we also do tongue twisters, you know, as you’re starting off with your littlest one, but we do tongue twisters in high school too because who doesn’t like a tongue twister. It really is important to be able to share in conversations that vary so much so that they’re not looking at you going: Ugh, another serious conversation with mom, don’t want to do it.
Anne: So, I recommend these to you guys and I’m so grateful Kat that you came on the podcast today. Thank you so much.
Kat: Anne, thank you for your time and thank you so much for using TiffinTalk. I look forward to hearing more stories about what your kids have to say.
Honest Relationships Are The Healthiest
Anne: I’m going to really dig into this and do it for the next 13 weeks and lets have you back on so that I can share the funny and fun stories and interesting and sad stories maybe. All the different types of stories that come out of it, because I’d really like to explore this and let our listeners know how it went with my family.
Kat: That would be awesome, and I would be very grateful to talk with you and to hear those stories and to share some of my own as well, because every day in our house is not as blissful and cheery. It’s a reality check, and I’m sure it’s the same for you as well, and the cards can help those moments as well.
Anne: So, during this Christmas or Hanukkah or holiday season, whatever it is for you, if you’re looking for awesome meaningful gifts for your kids, I encourage you to go to TiffinTalk.com, and also check out our books page. We’ve just redesigned it. We have so many books on our page that are really helpful for children and they’re excellent gifts for Christmas. Like Good pictures/Bad Pictures, and Good Pictures/Bad Pictures Jr, and How to Talk to Your Kids About Pornography, and 30 days of Sex Talks. You can find all of the books that we have recommend at BTR.org/books.
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I hope you are having a happy holiday season. Merry, Merry Christmas! Until next week, stay safe out there.