Oh, the dreaded thank you note. Why is it so tough to get kids to write thank you notes? Why does it feel like such a chore to them? It seems a note of thanks can do more than dutifully tell Aunt Christina how much you liked the puffy jacket you got for Christmas. According to Jeffrey Froh, an assistant professor of psychology and the director of the Laboratory for Gratitude in Youth at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, gratitude may be crucial to compassion, empathy and even happiness.
“Grateful kids tend to be much more satisfied with their lives,” said Froh. “They do better in school and are less materialistic, less depressed and less envious. Their relationships are much stronger and more supportive.” In one study, grateful kids even reported fewer physical symptoms, like headaches, stomachaches and fevers.
Dr. Seuss seemed to agree when he wrote, “You ought to be thankful, a whole heaping lot, for the places and people you’re lucky you’re not.”
Let’s get down to the business of helping our kids have compassion, happiness and fewer headaches. There was a time, and I’m not necessarily proud of this, when after several thank you note-less birthdays went by, I threatened my kids saying not one gift card could be used, nor one toy played with, nor new shirt worn, until the thank you note was written. This actually worked. But I would prefer a different approach. Receiving a thank you note makes you feel good. It’s nice to know that someone appreciated your gift, especially if you’ve paid a fortune to have it shipped out of state.
I think the trick is to cut the obligation angle and fire up the gratitude part of writing thank you notes. Explain the value of letting Grandma know her present arrived and it is well loved. My older kids have said many times, “She was standing right there... I said thank you to her face... I even gave her a hug and a kiss. Why do I have to write a note, too?” This is where kids have to get creative and send the note with a picture that says, “Thanks again. I really love it. This is the outfit I wore to the dance.”
Kids can write thank you notes for outings or experiences, not just physical items: the special little trip to the water store for a snow cone. Remember that it feels great to receive a thank you note and we’re building character here!
A few tips for more meaningful thank you notes:
Gather your tools – Put together a fun kit with note cards, stamps, return address labels, a cool pen or markers. Even an address book would be fun.
Set time aside – The whole gratitude thing kind of backfires if you’re nagging about penmanship or content. Try not to rush. Get snacks. Dial in. Give yourself and your child a calculated break when there are lots of notes to write. You may not be able to get them all done in one sitting.
Be the recorder – I love it when I get notes from my preschool nieces that have been dictated to their mom with great detail and emotion. “Thank you for so much for the Sing Along Frozen movie, which has Elsa singing my favorite song, which sometimes I sing very loudly, and sometimes my daddy has to tell me to use my soft voice.” Still have your kids sign the cards. That little scribble is precious!
Teach graciousness – We all want our kids to be authentic. Aunt Jo’s frightening wool scarf? Skip “Thank you for the fabulous muffler!” and try some sincerity. “Dear Aunt Jo, how long did it take you to make this? It is very warm and so sweet of you to remember my favorite color is blue. Thank you.”
The sooner the better – Get those notes written as soon as possible. According to the Emily Post Institute, don’t be embarrassed by a note sent a bit late, even a month after the gift was received. It’s far better to send a late note than no note at all.
Model the action – Let your kids see you write thank you notes. This is not a thing of the past. Writing thank you notes is just plain good manners!
Molly Wigand, a writer for Hallmark, says this about thank you notes: “I know of some families that find thank you notes archaic or just too much trouble. It’s true that a phone call, email or text is a whole lot quicker and less stressful. But in a world in which kids can get almost anything on demand, taking time to show a little gratitude is good for everybody’s heart.”