As the holiday season approaches, kids are quick to write lists of gifts they hope to receive but drag their feet when it’s time to write thank-you notes. In my house, no thank you note means no gifts. Period.
It might sound harsh, but it’s important to cultivate a spirit of gratitude — not a “gimme” mentality. Eileen Kennedy-Moore, child psychologist and author of several books on child development says, “Most kids don't love writing thank you notes, but expressing appreciation is a good habit to develop.”
To help young children tackle thank you notes, Kennedy-Moore suggests copying the phrase "thank you" and allowing them to draw a picture. For older children, she suggests a simple format, which can make the process less overwhelming:
- The note can open with a simple statement thanking the giver for the gift.
- Next, your child can describe one thing special about the gift or how your child plans to use it.
- Finally, your child can again thank the giver for their thoughtfulness and perhaps make a comment about enjoying or looking forward to seeing the giver.
My own rule of thumb is to tell my kids that they can’t use a gift until the giver has received a thank you. It’s important that the sender knows that the item has arrived, especially if it was sent by the mail and not hand delivered. Plus, the giver spent their time and money selecting a gift and it’s important that my children acknowledge that kindness no matter what the gift is.
I used to insist my own children write handwritten notes because it felt more personal. But in recent years I have relented and allowed for emails and on occasion phone calls (although I actually find my kids less eager to talk on the phone than to send a note). I realized that the objective is to make sure that my children understand the importance of letting people know they appreciate their generosity. My kids seem to struggle more if they have to complete this task by pen than by computer.
Sending a thank you shouldn’t be too burdensome to a child. It doesn't have to be long but it must be sincere. There is nothing worse than a thank you that feels forced or disingenuous. Even if a child doesn’t like a gift, remind them that they are thanking the giver for thinking of them.
In addition to gifts, the holiday season is a great time for kids (and adults) to express gratitude to the people in their life. Suggest kids write a thank you note to their teacher, coach or babysitter.
Many years ago, my daughter wrote a simple acrostic poem to her second-grade teacher. She decorated it with stickers and then I bought a simple, inexpensive plastic frame to display it in. Her teacher was touched. She said that even though she appreciated all the holiday gifts that parents were kind enough to give her during the holiday season, this heartfelt note, direct from her student, made her feel really special. Fifteen years later this thank-you note still hangs in the teacher’s classroom.
It might feel old-fashioned, but good manners never go out of style.