In my last post, I tried to persuade you that you should teach your kids to write thank you notes. Here, I want to show my tricks for making that actually happen. Like teaching your child anything, it does take an investment to teach them how to write a thank you note. The good news is that you have 18 years to make that happen and that it doesn’t have to be painful.
My Tips for Teaching Your Child to Write Thank You Notes:
1. Start writing notes just as soon as they’re born.
Yes, you read that correctly. As soon as your baby is born, they should start writing thank you notes. Obviously, holding pen to paper will not actually be in their repertoire in the first year of life, but the chance is good that they received a baby gift or two. This means that you need to write a thank you note for them. Your son’s Great-Aunt Shirley should not have to wonder if you received the baby blanket she sent him. We have family and friends who live far away and when our kids send them thank you notes, they worry less that something got lost in the mail, feel appreciated, and are just a little more connected with our children.
Finally, I’ll add that starting to write thank you notes when your child is a baby will help you form the habit. Thank you notes are definitely on the low end of priorities with a newborn, I get it. Figuring out when and how you can make it happen though will help you form the habit so you can better support your child as she or he grows.
2) Have reasonable expectations for your kiddos.
Kids are not good writers when they’re little. Seriously, have you seen how they write their names when they’re first learning? What possesses them to write an E with 15 lines coming off it? Also, they complain a lot about their hands hurting. Ugh.
That said, if your child can sign their name, they’re ready to write some thank you notes. When mine were little, I would ask them to sign their name on a piece of their artwork, and I would write the note on it thanking whomever for the gift. As the girls got older, they’d start writing a little more. Sometimes I’d have them draw a picture of the shirt my grandmother sent them, or they’d trace the letters I wrote down.
These days, I write down the start of the thank you note for 6 year-old Libby to copy, while Nell, at 10, manages most notes just fine on her own. It wasn’t easy to get them to this point, I’ll be honest. BUT- each time we sit down to write our notes, it gets easier and easier for them to organize their thoughts and write.
3) Have reasonable expectations for yourself.
Thank you notes do not have to be on paper. They don’t even have to be notes! If you’re on your feet all day, it’s completely acceptable to call someone to thank them for a gift. Your Aunt Bert would probably love to catch up with you, and calling her on the phone to thank her for the singing and dancing mechanical rabbit she sent your children for Easter is completely acceptable (true story). There are times when it’s just easier for me to take 15 minutes to write the note for my kids versus the half hour I’d have to find to get them to write.
On a few occasions, all I could muster was having the girls hold up signs saying, “thank you” in a picture that I then texted to my best friend.
If you only have five minutes in your day, a thank you text is fine. Just don’t leave your sister-in-law wondering if your kiddo even received the bow and arrow set she sent. She took the time and effort to pick out something special and put it in the mail for you; you can take the time to send a quick text.
But… if you do have a free 15 minutes, jotting down a quick note thanking your college roommate for sending you three books you haven’t tired of reading to your toddler yet, is completely worth it. Taking that moment to practice a little gratitude yourself will do you good the rest of the day.
4) Have the supplies on hand.
My mother-in-law has these gorgeous note cards emblazoned with the family crest (!) that she uses to send thank you notes, and I have to tell you, it’s a pleasure to receive something so beautiful in the mail. But you don’t have to go to a printer to write a perfectly lovely thank you note. I tend to pick up a pack of 10 cards off the clearance rack of whatever store I’m in. This has resulted in an eclectic range of cards for the girls to pick from when it’s time to write our notes.
My best trick though has been using the girls’ artwork as my stationary. Do you have stacks of artwork piling up on your kitchen table? Are your kiddos still learning to use up the entire piece of paper leaving lots of empty white space per page? Set aside some of it to use for your thank you notes. It’s a win-win situation as it allows you to pawn up off some of the drawings they like to do of dogs to your family and friends along with a delightful note.
Gratitude expressed, clutter removed.
Don’t forget the stamps! If you have to hunt around for a stamp, the chances of that thank you note sitting on your table for months on end quintuple.
5) Write thank you notes together.
How many time have you asked your kid to take care of something, only to discover three hours later that their dirty sock is STILL lying in the middle of the living room next to a half-consumed apple? Telling your kids to write their thank you notes is a lot like that.
To avoid increasing my blood pressure, the girls and I sit down to write our thank you notes together. It tends to go best at our kitchen table with a snack nearby. The girls will write while I address the envelopes, answer spelling questions (“That’s “aunt” with a “u,” not “ant”), and make sure the stamp application makes it the right corner. Writing together means that the girls can divvy up who writes which note to whom and sign each other’s notes. This means we typically can manage a post-holiday session in as little as half an hour.
6) Emphasize the gratitude, not the obligation.
If you can’t tell, I feel a strong obligation to write thank you notes. I was raised in the South, and have a distinct memory of having to write a thank you note one Christmas for the Emily Post’s Etiquette book I’d received. But when thinking about this article, I came across an idea from the Emily Post Institute (based here in Burlington!) that I wish I’d been introduced to sooner. In an article on how to encourage children and teens to write thank you notes, they suggest to “cut out the obligation and play up the gratitude.” When I tried this out with Libby and Nell, I was surprised at how differently they responded. Writing thank you notes became less of a chore I was making them do, and more of a chance for us to talk about what they liked about their gifts or the person we were writing to. We smiled more, I frowned less, and the whole endeavor felt more like an act of creativity we could enjoy together.