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Effective Parenting Technique

Updated on September 29, 2012

Acceptance and Atonement Problem Solving

I find that writing and sharing opportunities work best for me when they present themselves in real time, in my everyday activities something comes up and I think, "That's worth sharing!" and I come in and write.

When I woke up today I did not have a plan to write anything. I sent my children off to school with the usual hugs and kisses. When I came back in the house, there on the counter was my topic.

My daughter had left a note folded neatly on the counter with her personal cell phone on top of it. I knew exactly what it meant, she had done something wrong and was practicing our method of dealing with a problem: An acceptance and atonement letter.

Let me back up a few years so I can explain how the acceptance and atonement letter came into being in our house.

Stands the Test of Time

When I had my first child I was one of those mom's that read every parent manual, article, text book and leaflet I could find about child rearing. I was surprised when my college counselor advised me I had earned enough credits for a psychology degree! I applied and graduated that summer. All the studying I did, and still do, on child rearing techniques paid off for me in a degree and a strategy that has proven to stand the test of time.

Just Go to Your Room

I have raised four children and one of the most frustrating moments I can remember during the younger years of my kids, was trying to explain to them, when they did something I didn't approve of, what the problem was exactly and know that they understood. A child of four years old on up to nine and ten years old see a parent that isn't pleased with their behavior and they dissolve into tears. This can really get frustrating and end up with a, "Just go to your room" or the arm stretched out, with fingert pointing to their bedroom because you're not getting anywhere trying to explain it. And that's exactly where this technique sprang from for me.

The Letter of Acceptance and Atonement

I was a single parent of four kids ranging in age from four years old to thirteen years old. I was working a very early morning shift so I could be at home when my kids came home from school each day.

The problem just started one day out of the blue. The bus would drop my eight year old daughter off at our doorstep at 2:10 p.m. everyday. Since I had to work the early morning shift, I would sleep when I got home until my kids began to arrive home. My eight year old would be the first to arrive home. I would be just about ready to wake up when the bus would drop her off. I'd come out to find her snacking and watching cartoons or starting on her homework. Then one day the routine changed. Instead of coming in and settling down, she slammed the door and started yelling, "Mom! Mom! Where are you!" She made her way to my bedroom without pushing it open the rest of the way to see if I was asleep, she yelled, "Mom! Where are you!" She knew exactly where I was and I told her I didn't appreciate having her wake me up like that. We talked about how that's my sleep time like she gets her sleep time when I leave for work. I asked her if she felt that I wasn't getting up and spending enough time with her? She said no, I was spending enough time with her. She agreed not to do it again.

Well, she did do it again. The very next day, slam, "Mom! Mooooouumm!" Now she's at my bedroom door, "Mooouum!" Again, I sat her down and talked to her. She started tearing up and telling me she was sorry and she wouldn't do it again.

That lasted about two days and she started doing it again. Now she would see me come out of the room, slap her hand over her mouth in mock surprise and say, "Oh, yeah, I'm sorry. I forgot".

She Enjoyed Writing It

She wouldn't do it everyday, but she did it random enough to make sleep deprivation a real concern for me. After about eight weeks of her randomly coming home, slamming the door and yelling for me, all I had to do was step out my door and point and she would go off to her room. Out of frustration, one day, I pointed to her bedroom and she started her slow, saunter down the hall and I stopped her and asked, "Just tell me why you won't stop? You know I need my rest. You know your going to be sent to your room. I can't figure it out. Why won't you stop?" She looked up and me and said, "I don't know why". I believed her. It was then that it struck me, she really doesn't know why she's doing it and if she doesn't know why, then how is she going to know what to do to stop it, besides me coming out upset and banishing her to her room. So I told her, "I want you to write a letter to me about what you've been doing. I want you to #1 explain exactly what you think you're doing wrong. #2 write down why it's a problem. #3 write down what you plan to do to change it. You may not come out of your room until you have finished the letter to me".

Dragging her heels, she slowly made her way to her room with pen and paper in hand. I could see by her slump, she didn't like the assignment I gave her.

Within fifteen minutes she came back out of her room. I was surprised and thought maybe she thought I had forgotten what I asked her to do. Instead, she walked straight up to me and handed me the letter I had requested of her! The picture below is that first letter of acceptance and atonement that she wrote to me.

She had enjoyed writing it, she told me later. At first she admitted she had thought, "oh. gosh, what the heck". But when she wrote out the title of the first question, What She Did Wrong, she said it was easy to answer the question. Coming up with her own solutions took more concentrated effort on her part, but she kinda liked it, she confessed.

Here's What Makes It Work

The letter becomes a contract between you and your child.

As the parent, it's your job to make sure they follow through with their atonement. If someone can explain an idea or concept to someone else it's an indication that he/she has a good understanding of the idea or concept. You can't explain something if you don't understand it yourself, right? Their letter is a good indicator that they are aware of what the problem is, they understand it is a problem and what they think they can do to make it correct. For example: Poor grades in school. Telling your child to get better grades is merely a statement, but for that child to understand, "the poor grades I accept for myself affect me in several ways that makes everything harder on ME! Poor grades

  • make learning the successive information slower and more difficult for me because obviously I didn't study the initial concept in the first place well enough to earn a decent grade.
  • makes me feel like a dummy, whether I want to admit it or not.
  • unconsciously sets up a coarse of low self expectation that will last my lifetime if I don't reset my life course and expect more from myself.

You, as the parent, need to teach and explain what the consequences in life will be if certain behaviors continue. "If you continue robbing banks, you will go to jail, that is the law" or "If you drive recklessly you risk harming yourself in an accident, or someone else, and you will have to live with what you did the rest of your life, if you live through it"

Writing the letter is the contract, you the parent, are the guide in their life to help them attain the atonement they specify.

My daughters first Acceptance and Atonement letter.
My daughters first Acceptance and Atonement letter.

Your Child Will Feel Good About Themselves

After my daughter wrote that letter, she never, never, came home yelling my name again. The result and benefit was overwhelmingly positive and the solution, that she came up with, worked so well we implemented the letters into our regular discipline routine, if it can even be called discipline.

I like the idea that the child states what their perception of the problem is. A few times when I received a letter, the child had written what they thought the problem was and it was not what I thought the problem was. That by itself can be frustrating. If your trying to resolve an issue and your not on the same page as the child, your going to get no where fast. The first sentence tells you whether your both talking about the same thing. This also instills in the child the process of taking responsibility for the action by writing, "This is what I did wrong".

They determine how they can atone for the action or offense. The child explaining how they believe they can fix the problem. Sometimes several solutions are offered. That's even better. If plan A doesn't work, they have plan B ready.

It also saves the confrontation with you that can bring on the tears and the "just go to your room". Children tend to collect their thoughts better and more accurately when they don't have their parent standing over them demanding an answer right then and there. I don't know anyone that can think clearly when their superior or boss is glaring at them!

Here we are six years later and about 20 to 30 letters, from each child over the years, and they are still working for my family.

Some Benefits of Acceptance & Atonement Letters

The capacity to gain an accurate and deep intuitive understanding of a person or thing.
Find an answer to a problem by considering various possible solutions.
Self Awareness
The capacity to perceive you as an individual. Self awareness is vital to self improvement.
Self Discipline
The discipline and training of oneself.
The quality or state of being accountable. Responsibility to someone or for some activity.
The state or fact of being accountable or to blame for something
When I thought about the benefits behind my kids writing out an Acceptance and Atonement letter, it abounds with positive reasoning. I've listed the traits I have noticed in my children as a direct result of the letter writings.

This morning when I came in the house after seeing them off, I couldn't help but smile to myself when I saw the letter and her cell phone sitting on the counter. I knew it was an acceptance and atonement letter right away and I couldn't help but feel so proud of my children when they step up to the plate and take responsibility.

In our home there are expectations that are clear and consistent and the consequences are also clear and consistent. A report card reflecting a grade less than a B is automatic loss of their personal cell phone until the next report card showing the grade has improved to an acceptable one.

Your parenting attentiveness will determine how well the acceptance and atonement letters will work in your home. Some people work full time to take care of their children or share custody or have babysitter's and these can prove to be challenging. But you may notice a bond you will achieve with your child whether you are there every minute to enforce the letter or not. It's a contract between the two of you that secures each of you exactly what is expected, no guess work.

I didn't have to ask my daughter for her cell phone today because she already knows the grade she accepted at school is an automatic phone loss until the grade is improved. It's very important that the your house rules are clear and consistent. EVERY time a grade of C+ or less comes home from any one of the children the first order of business is to hand over the phone, no questions asked, no excuses, hand it over now.

When I was studying in college I learned that children respond best when they are a part of the decision making process and the order in their home, rather than the parent dictating order. Of course when they offer their idea of atonement it must be reasonable and that's the reason for the letter, so you can review their atonement decisions and how they will fulfill them.

  • They get heard.
  • You know they are clear what the problem is.
  • They have control of fixing it.
  • Confrontation is eliminated
  • The child feels good about themselves for coming up with a solution to their problem. An excellent skill to learn for their adult life.

Six years later and the acceptance and atonement letters are still working.
Six years later and the acceptance and atonement letters are still working. | Source


Submit a Comment

  • Msmillar profile imageAUTHOR


    6 years ago from Valley Springs

    I know it's effective because my children are growing up to be successful, productive members of society. Thank you for bringing it to my attention that I need to add some clarity to the process. No, the child can't just drop me a note and everything is peaches and cream, lol. As the parent, I make sure they fulfill their atonement. If not we sit down at the table and figure out why. In my home there are certain things that just are, you know what I mean? Bringing home B's on a report card is just not acceptable, not fulfilling their atonement is not acceptable, no questions asked. Thanks for commenting and I'll add clarity tomorrow morning!

  • flacoinohio profile image


    6 years ago from Ohio

    I don't really know what to think. If this works for you that is awesome, I think that this method leaves you open to being manipulated. Your rational is that you are trying to avoid conflict and your are teaching your children to be responsible by accepting responsibility for their actions. Part of accepting authority is controlling reactions, the incessant blubbering during feedback is a behavior that works for many children, yours included. If your normal discipline routine involves some sort of corporal punishment, I would choose to write a letter that tells you what you want to hear too. How do you know that the self chosen consequences are effective?


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