Saying Thank You the Old-Fashioned Way

Why teaching kids to write a note of appreciation is worth the time.

There are some things that technology cannot duplicate. No matter how enthusiastically you type “LOL,” it just isn’t the same as sitting with a friend and cracking up together. You might see bad news on Facebook and type “hugs to you,” but a hug isn’t a hug without the squeeze.

Take a thank-you note, for example. Last week, I had the fun of treating a friend to dinner. We had a great time together, and the next day she wrote me a sweet email about how much she enjoyed our conversation and our friendship. But while I liked getting her email, it was the words written in ink that arrived a few days later that are tucked in a basket, saved for their evidence of a decade-long friendship.

When we were visiting my husband’s grandparents last year, I was leafing through a scrapbook put together by his grandmother, affectionately known as Mama-san by all her dear family. On a page titled, “my favorite things,” she had listed “handwritten thank-you notes.” I noticed that she specifically liked handwritten notes, not including on her list typed notes or phone calls.

For these reasons, I am trying my best to teach my children to write thank-you notes. They are still very young, but we are slowly incorporating some ideas to help them learn the joy of telling someone exactly why their thoughtfulness was appreciated.

For my kids who are too young to write, I encourage them to color a picture of themselves enjoying the gift they received. Or, if they are more geared toward expression in words, they can dictate a thank-you note to me and then sign their version of their name.

I am careful to write the note exactly as they tell it to me. My 5-year-old daughter often includes very flowery language while my son gets straight to the point. It’s these nuances that I imagine are probably fun for their grandparents or other adults to see in writing.

For older kids that can write a few words, Target often has a good selection of thank-you notes that provide much of the needed text for a thank you note, allowing a young child to fill in the recipient and the gift that was received. When I first saw these when my firstborn was a baby, I dismissed them as a lazy way to write thank-you notes. I had no idea then what effort it is for a kindergartener to write four or five words, and on a straight line, no less.

Some families incorporate rules into their households about writing a thank-you note before they are allowed to use the gift. While I see why it would be helpful, I don’t subscribe to this system. My mom really likes to write a thank-you note, and I benefited from her simple love of telling someone how much she enjoyed his or her kindness.

So in our house, our kids are encouraged to write a thank-you note, but it is really up to them how they show their appreciation. I want gratitude to be something that they enjoy expressing, but will also become a part of what they know is the right thing to do.

Every now and then, we just plain miss the boat. At a birthday party at Concord Lanes, I had planned for my son to open gifts after the party. It was our first away-from-home party and I wasn’t sure if kids would want to sit and watch him open gifts when bowling was an option.

While I was greeting parents coming to pick up party guests, two of the children opened all of the gifts. So we had no idea whom to thank for what.

With thank you notes, as with all other ways of expressing gratitude, we are learning as we go. But I hope that there are some things in life that my kids will find value in doing the old-fashioned way, like laughing, hugs and thank-you notes.

Lisa May March 12, 2012 at 11:48 AM
My children love to write thank you notes. I have always encouraged them to be thankful. Even when they receive a gift together, one will write it out while they all sign it. It does seem to be a dying art. On a blog I read, a couple of years ago the writer suggested saving thank you notes that you receive. They are great to use as a pick me up on days when you might be feeling down. I have started to save those I receive. They are all wonderful and do lift you up!
meg langa March 13, 2012 at 01:42 AM
everyone should write thank you notes... if someone took the time to get you a gift, you need to send them a note and let them know you appreciated it. When I get gift cards, I try to tell the giver what I plan to spend it on (or spent)... very important.
Elizabeth Cottrell March 15, 2012 at 10:45 PM
Jenny, this is a wonderful article and an important message. I think you're very astute to give your children some leeway in expressing themselves. If they think of thank you notes as all that's standing between them and their gift, they will never be enthusiastic note writers when they get older. As an enthusiastic promoter of notewriting on my blog Heartspoken.com (because it's such a powerful connection tool), I applaud your efforts. If anyone needs free encouragement or tips for notewriting, my site has lots of both.
Jenny Wescoat March 16, 2012 at 02:47 AM
I save mine, too, Lisa! Sometimes the joy I get from reading the note is so much bigger than the effort I put into whatever it was for!
Jenny Wescoat March 16, 2012 at 02:48 AM
I agree Meg. I think that if someone took the time to pick out a gift, the least I can do is take a few minutes to thank them.
Jenny Wescoat March 16, 2012 at 02:49 AM
Thanks, Elizabeth. Enjoyed getting your email, too!


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