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Reviving the Lost Art of Writing Thank You

Why expressing thanks in a letter is important for both parents and kids.

As a child, Christmas meant the smell of a fresh pine tree, glittering with lights and ornaments. There was the thrill of anticipation when awakening Christmas morning and heading downstairs to see the pile of presents nestled underneath the tree. Then reality crashed down the day after when my mother handed me a stack of notepaper and envelopes, and sent me to my room to write thank you letters.

She didn’t send me in ill-prepared, as from an early age—as soon as I could write—she taught me what to say in the notes. The basic components haven’t changed, and I’ve been teaching my children how to properly write thank you notes.

  • Start out with a greeting (Dear Aunt Jan)
  • Open with general thanks for the gift (Thank you for the book on knitting)
  • Say a little something about the gift or how you’ll use it (I can’t wait to start knitting a scarf for my doll)
  • Close with gratitude for the present (I appreciate your taking the time to send me such a lovely gift or Thanks again for the knitting book).

For monetary gifts, the only thing that changes is mentioning how you’ll use the funds (and you don’t mention the specific amount).

In our household, I make sure the gifts are thanked with a handwritten note from the older children and a drawing with signature from the younger ones. Thank yous must be written within days of opening the gifts.

And how do I handle the inevitable complaints? With raised eyebrows and saying, “If you can’t write the note, you don’t get the gift.” The kids know I say what I mean and mean what I say, so that’s usually the last peep on the subject.

It might seem old-fashioned in today’s increasingly electronic world to push children to hand-write thank yous, but consider what they learn while doing so:

  • Appreciation for the gift and giver
  • Legible penmanship
  • Letter composition.
  • Common courtesy.

I encourage you this holiday season to start a new tradition of writing thank-you notes—and it wouldn’t hurt for Mom and Dad to set the example by writing notes yourself.

Do you make your children write thank you notes after tearing open their holiday gifts?

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Brenda McNulty January 02, 2013 at 01:27 PM
Sarah, I really appreciate this. Now as an adult gift giver to nieces and nephews, I really appreciate receiving a note. It lets me know the gift arrived, and helps me know what they like so that in the future I'll know what gifts to buy them. Usually they are exceedingly excited about something they genuinely liked , and just polite about something that was not a big hit. I didn't really like writing the notes as a child, but now I understand some of the benefits from the gift giver's perspective.
Sarah Hamaker January 02, 2013 at 04:50 PM
Thanks, Brenda. I hope that my kids will continue the thank-you habit into adulthood. And for the record, we--including ones from the adults--mailed our thank-yous off today (given that we were out of town right after Christmas).

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