Experts agree. It’s essential to teach children the importance of expressing a sincere and thoughtful thank you. An in-person thank you is fine for someone who has held open a door, but a handwritten note should be the default for a gift, a celebratory dinner, or a special outing.
Mary O’Donohue, author of When You Say “Thank You,” Mean It … And 11 Other Lessons for Instilling Lifelong Values in Your Children, says “When it’s time for thank-you notes for Hanukkah, Christmas, birthdays, I don’t think you say, ‘All right, you can’t play with that toy until you write a note to Aunt Martha.’ I think you say, ‘Remember how good you felt when Dad gave you a big hug and said thank you for helping around the house? I want the person who gave you these wonderful gifts to feel that great.’”
How to get started? First, make sure kids view this as fun, not a punishment.
For the youngest: Gather up paper, crayons and stickers. Yes, you’ll be the scribe, but asking your child for the sentiment (Grandma, I love blue!) and enlisting him to decorate makes the thank you note as much of a keepsake as a social obligation.
On her website, Martha Stewart advises: “Even young children can (and should) send proper thank-you notes. Have a toddler pose for a photo while using or wearing the gift. As kids begin to write, encourage them to pen ‘thank you’ on a card or a note you’ve written. You can also have kids draw pictures of themselves enjoying their gifts, or add doodles to an envelope.”
Among the tips child expert, educator, and author Michelle Borba offers is to set age appropriate guidelines. “A young child can dictate his comments and only needs to sign his name. School age kids should use this rule from The Etiquette and Leadership Institute at Athens, Georgia: ‘The total number of sentences in a thank you note should be half the child’s age.’ So a ten-year-old should be expected to write a minimum of five complete sentences; a six-year-old should write just three sentences.”
Emily Post suggests spending a few minutes with your child talking about the gift and what makes it special: “It’s a book you loved reading. You’ve already made three projects with the art kit. The toy is so much fun to play with you haven’t wanted to do anything else. You had a great time shopping with your friends and found the perfect sweater with the gift card.”
For ‘tweens and teens who just can’t do anything without a dose of technology, encourage them to use the tools they like (and may have just received) to create a card and thoughtful message.
Teaching children how to write thank you notes will serve them well. So set the tone, and the example. After all, who among us hasn’t received the proverbial fruit cake?