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Writing thank-you notes: Good habit or special torture?

The day after their birthdays and Christmas, my boys think I am the meanest mom in the world. After days that are such tributes to consumerism and benefit them so well, I won’t let them play with or use new gifts… until they write their thank-you notes.

Everybody has their “things.” You know, issues that are both points of personal pride and points of annoyance in others. One of mine (I have far too many, and I’m working on that) is thank you notes. Just as I believe people in general don’t say “I’m sorry” enough, I also don’t think people say “Thank you” enough. While “I’m sorry” can smooth things over, “thank you” can open things up — to more warmth, to a stronger bond, to many things.Aside from practical and logistical issues, saying thank you somehow, some way is a basic courtesy. Writing a note to thank someone for a thoughtful gift? It’s the easiest of all thank yous, really. A couple or three sentences, an envelope, a stamp and just a few minutes and you are done. Without a doubt, it took the sender far longer and took a much greater effort to get that item to you. And with fewer and fewer people engaging in actual written correspondence, handwritten notes delivered by the mail carrier deliver a great big smile, too, for adults and children alike.

A lost art

Most people I talk to have had the experience of sending something off to someone far away (or even close by), and never hearing any acknowledgement of the item. Was it lost along the way? Does the sender dare call and ask? I know people who have engaged third parties to ask if something arrived, only to learn that yes, long since, and what’s the problem? A couple or three sentences, an envelope, a stamp and just a few minutes could have eliminated the need for all that effort and awkwardness. I try to teach my kids about this little nicety now so no third party ever must approach them in such a discomfited manner.

Make it Easy

My kids have relatives fairly far away so several things arrive each birthday or holiday via US Mail or a shipping company. As their mother, I also thank the giver and let the giver know it arrived safely, but my children, starting in second grade, must write thank you notes themselves. I facilitate this by having appropriate note cards available (no pre-printed fill-in-the-blank options here); I often put a pack of notecards with a fun design in their stockings at Christmas. I keep a list for each child of who gave them what, and have addresses ready. I clear the table and sit with them. If it’s the day after Christmas, I’m writing thank you notes myself.Woody still balks a little at this note writing time, but Alfs has it down. Just recently he knocked off four thank you notes in fifteen minutes to his grandmother, a couple of aunts and uncles, and close friends.

Start them young

For Sunshine, since she’s so young (and for Woody up until a year or so ago) I often use a photo postcard service such as AmazingMail to send a photo of the child with their gift along with the thank you message to each giver (for birthday parties, I might also take a picture of my child with each guest). Sunshine will sit on my lap after I have downloaded the photos, she helps me choose the photo to use (if there is more than one), and we talk about what I am typing for the message as we go. I ask what she likes about her gift and try to incorporate that into the message. Even from an early age, she’s starting to understand this process.Thank you notes are small but important acts in my kids’ lives. A little bit of gratitude goes a long, long way.

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