As a child sponsor for over 3 decades, and now as the Child Sponsorship Administrator for Forward Edge, I am often asked (and challenged myself) about how to best communicate with a sponsored child.
In almost all cases, the children we sponsor live in other countries. We do live in a technologically advanced age with a myriad of electronic options and apps designed for communication, but for logistical reasons (and safety precautions) these methods are rarely viable or suitable for sponsor/child contact. Ultimately, the best way to communicate with our kids is through good old-fashioned letters (and e-mail, thank goodness).
How do I build a personal, meaningful relationship with my child?
1. Don’t get discouraged
Don’t be discouraged by what you think are the expectations of your sponsored child. I don’t know how many times I’ve found myself feeling guilty that I haven’t written enough, or made my letters creative and entertaining enough, etc. I’ve had sponsors worry that if they send an email instead of a hand-written letter it would be perceived as less personal, and the child’s feelings may be hurt; or, if a birthday greeting doesn’t arrive in time for the exact day, it would somehow be less important.
The truth is those assumptions are just not accurate. Most children in a sponsorship program are completely new to the experience and have no preconceived notions or expectations; they’re just excited that someone they don’t know has expressed a desire to know them, love them, and help them. This makes it easy to engage them with a light heart and no pressure.
2. Write often
You may be wondering, “How often should I write?” I would say one or two letters a month is ideal to really help form that friendship. (But remember, if you cannot write that often, don’t worry; your child will appreciate whatever you can do.) Whether your letters are hand-written or typed on plain paper, or rainbow-colored and peppered with doodles and clip art, your child will cherish them, save them, and probably show them to you if you’re ever able to visit him/her.
3. Share Photos
Children LOVE photos of you, your pets, your family, your city, etc. This brings them into your world. Postcards are great and personal pics are better. I like to take silly photos of myself sometimes and send them to my children; it makes them laugh. They probably think I’m a little nutty, and it’s true. In turn, they draw me pictures that include stick figures of us together, and I’m reminded that they also see me as a part of their lives.
4. Celebrate with them
Many children in other countries don’t get to celebrate birthdays or holidays the way we often do in the U.S., so, even the simplest acknowledgment of these occasions has a great impact. A card, store-bought or homemade, is a treat. A small toy delivered or a financial gift sent so that a clothing item or a pair of shoes can be purchased is a blessing. However you choose to bless your child on these occasions, you can be sure that it is greatly appreciated; and, if it is a little late to arrive, it really doesn’t matter. Just the fact that you remembered them makes them feel very special.
Your love will speak volumes.
Each of these tips, hopefully, encourages you that simply contact with your child is the most important thing; a handful of words, a prayer, a scripture verse speaks volumes to their heart.
Of course, the ultimate way to bridge the distance—emotionally and physically—is by visiting your child. I know that this is a challenge for many sponsors who may not have the available time or money. Out of the many children I’ve sponsored over the years, I’ve only been able to visit one of them—and that was just last year. I can tell you, as many more will attest, that meeting your child face to face is one of the greatest joys in life. Being able to engage with them in their program, visit their home and meet their family, laugh with them and hug them is the best. Yes. The hugs are the best. Visiting your child is an investment but one that is worth making; and, usually, with some planning ahead, can be easier and more rewarding than you imagine.
When you and I think about sponsorship in the grand scheme of things, we’re not only giving financial aid to a child in need, we’re impacting a life through relationship—right now and possibly for eternity. We’re helping a child recognize their value and modeling how to value others. Never think that your gesture is too small or too insignificant. The small, and sometimes larger, ways that we engage our sponsored child communicates love to them—and it changes them, and us, for the good.