WOMEN'S WORK

How To Coax Your Kid Into Sending Thank-You Notes

If you want to raise a grateful kid, encourage them to send a note of thanks.

Growing up, social psychologist Susan Newman rolled her eyes every time her parents told her she needed to send a thank-you note to a relative or family friend.

Today, her kids do the same thing.

“I balked and my children balk,” Newman, the author of “Little Things Long Remembered: Making Your Children Feel Special Every Day,” told HuffPost.

“The excuse is often, ‘I don’t have time,’ and I get it: Children today are frequently over-scheduled and time to write a note is hard to find,” she said. “Your kids won’t understand the merits of thank-you notes unless you explain why acknowledging a gift or favor is important.”

Kids have probably always been loath to do it, but there was a time when parents were more inclined to insist their kids dash off a quick thank-you note. In the 19th century, sending a thank-you note for a gift or kind gesture was par for the course. But in the internet era, our preference for rapid communication and our busy schedules have all but snuffed out the tradition.

“We have become a busier and less formal society in general,” Newman said. “So today, writing a card and getting an envelope in the mail is surprising and welcome. And for relatives, it’s a cherished reminder that a child is grateful and loves them back.”

It’s true: Research suggests that the simple act of saying (or writing) “thanks” makes the recipient feel happier and more engaged with the sender, and also increases the emotional intelligence of the person giving thanks. (And who doesn’t want to raise an emotionally intelligent kid?)

Clearly, there’s a lot of benefits to sending thank-you notes. But how do you convince your kid that it’s a legitimately fun and easy thing to do? Below, Newman and other experts offer their best tips.

Remind them that a thank-you note doesn’t need to be long.

A thank-you note doesn’t need to be literary or long, especially if it’s being written by a little person. Let your kids know that just a few words to show your gratitude will work, said Diane Gottsman, an etiquette expert and author of “Modern Etiquette for a Better Life.”

“A child will grow up learning how to thank someone if they are guided but you don’t want to make them feel uncomfortable about how long the note was or their handwriting,” she said.

Don’t criticize, Gottsman said, and don’t stand over their shoulder, instructing them what to write.

“You can give them direction but don’t rewrite the entire letter for them,” she said. “And older teens and young adults should be free to write whatever they’d like in their note.”

Don't over-instruct your kids on what to write. Let them put their own personal touch on the letter.
Don't over-instruct your kids on what to write. Let them put their own personal touch on the letter.

If your kids are young, turn letter writing into a game.

If writing thank-you notes is a hard sell to your little ones, try showing them how fun it can be to receive one — kind of like how Mary Poppins turned cleanup into a “fun” activity.

“Parents can write a thank-you note to their children for something nice they’ve done, then surprise the kids by placing the thank-you note in random places to find,” said Maryanne Parker, an etiquette coach and author of “Posh Overnight: The 10 Pillars of Social Etiquette.” “The kids can do the same thing when they write thank-you notes to you.”

When you’re sending a note to family or friends, let your kids pick the stationery, or have them make their own cards. (Blank card stock is available at most craft stores.)

“You can turn a thank-you note into a small piece of art with drawings,” Parker said. “Then before you send them off, let the kids display them for a bit, like a little exhibition.”

After the holidays, don’t overburden your kids with a whole day of thank you note writing.

Christmas or Hanukkah (or any other holiday where gifts are involved) are a perfect time to teach your kids the importance of saying thanks. But it’s asking a lot to have them write all of them in one day, especially if they’re younger, said Thomas P. Farley, an etiquette expert in New York City.

“Realize that after a windfall occasion such as Christmas, Hanukkah, a birthday or a graduation, having to write 10, 20 or more thank-yous to relatives and friends can be daunting,” he said. “Have your child write just a few each day so the task feels less overwhelming.”

“It’s a good idea to explain to children why writing thank-you notes is important: It shows they are being thoughtful, respectful and appreciative of others,” Newman said.
“It’s a good idea to explain to children why writing thank-you notes is important: It shows they are being thoughtful, respectful and appreciative of others,” Newman said.

After someone does something nice for your child, ask, “Do you think this deserves a thank-you note?”

Gift giving clearly calls for a thank-you note. But it’s not all about “things.” Your kids should be grateful for little acts of kindness or generosity, too. The next time someone does something for your child ― for instance, maybe their uncle takes them to Little League practice and games when you’re out of town ― ask if they think that act calls for a thank-you note.”

“Of course not every gesture requires a thank-you note, but we should teach our kids that when someone does something meaningful or polite for us, you reciprocate the kindness by sending a thank-you note,” Parker said. “In general, anything done for the kid out of the ordinary deserves a thank-you note.”

If you can’t get around to getting stationery, a Paperless Post note — or even a text — is fine.

There’s something special about getting stationery and sending a card the old school way. But if you’re in a pinch, sure, sending a Paperless Post email or another e-card works. And depending on what the person did for your child, a text can suffice, too.

“Either of those things are better than nothing,” Newman said. “The point is to acknowledge what you have received, to make the giver feel they made a good choice. It’s rude to simply skip saying thank you in some way.”

Whatever option you choose, after you send it, be enthusiastic about how happy the person will be when they receive the note.

“It’s a good idea to explain to children why writing thank-you notes is important: It shows they are being thoughtful, respectful and appreciative of others,” Newman said. “Many children feel proud of their thank-you note ‘work.’”

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