All thank you notes should be written by New Year's Day. In fact, New Year's Day itself can be a great day to get the notes taken care of -- everyone's home, the rush is over, and you have some downtime. The notes shouldn't take more than an hour, start to finish, so get them out of the way right after breakfast, and enjoy the rest of the day.
Invariably, your child will receive a gift he doesn't like, and he will be truly unhappy when he learns that he still has to write a thank you note for it. Acknoweldge his disappointment, but be firm about writing the note. You'll most likely need to work together to find appropriate wording. It's okay to have a little fun -- for example, you can thank aunt Martha for the "unique" sweater -- but the note must be polite and unoffensive.
Thank you notes do take a little bit of time and effort, but they do enhance the gift exchange experience. People who are thanked properly are more likely to reward you with gifts in the future. And you can absolutely tell your kids that.
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