Honey, Did My Package Arrive? The Dreaded Thank You Note.
Call us old-fashioned, but we are firm believers in the thank you note. Not the Internet dashed off e-mail, not a text, but an honest-to-goodness hand-written note that you had to find an envelope and stamp for and then stick in the mail (easier said than done in NYC, where you generally don't have a personal mail box).
We are of the belief that manners are not just a formality for children. They are an important part of teaching our children good morals. In taking the time to say a proper thank you, you are acknowledging the work and effort someone took on your behalf. As children, who are often by nature more self-absorbed than adults, a proper thank you requires them to look outside of themselves and be gracious and grateful for what appears before them, rather than just expecting it or assuming something is their inherent right. Thank you notes also serve their self-interest: a well-written note is well-received and often ensures a follow-up invitation or gift.
Here are a few pointers for a good note:
1. Set Expectations: We require them after every birthday or holiday. We have heard some people don't let their kids open the next gift until the first note is written. That may be extreme, but we certainly tell our kids if they are happy to forego the gifts, they can forego the notes. Guess which one they choose? Explain why it matters. Sometimes kids brush off chores because they become divorced from the purpose. It's worth reminding kids about the effort and expense that went into buying the gift, and how much more often they'll be invited or included when they show that they are grateful.
2. Start Early: Young children can draw pictures of the present. Or they can draw a picture of the friend. Or dictate to you. Our 5-year-old sound spells a very basic note (Dear x. Thank you for x. Love, x), and then we write a translation on the back.
3. It's Never Too Late: Sometimes our note writing extends a month or so after an event. Even two. Better to do it quickly, but people appreciate it whenever you do it.
A fun writing station makes the task more inviting (Image houseofsix.com)
4. Make It Fun: Even when you’re a grown up, there’s a certain amount of drudgery in writing thank you notes. So, make it fun. Get out snacks, have fun writing materials, and make an afternoon of it. Maybe even plan something you know will go down well at the end, like a trip to the park or a movie.
5. Content Matters: When you're just learning to write, we can appreciate that just getting the very basic thank you out can be a Herculean task, for the grown up overseeing the process as much as the child. And for these kids, the fill in the blank thank you notes may be a good option. But for a child who knows how to write, a little more flourish is appreciated and totally doable. Don't just say thanks; you can mention how you'll use it. Then, add an extra sentence or two about how you spent the holiday or birthday, when you'll see them next, or some other piece of news you think they might be interested in.
6. Be Prepared: Make sure you have address books updated, stationery, and stamps on hand. Many a thank you note has wallowed on our desk for months for want of a simple stamp.
7. Pace Yourself: Set a reasonable goal for how many will get done in a day.
8. Set an Example: You know how hard you work to get the 'just right gift' or to throw a party, and how good it feels to get that thank you the next day. Your two minutes writing a note--especially when your kids are around--teaches them more than all the nagging you might do.