By Monica K. Guthrie
I have been writing thank-you notes since I was a young girl receiving birthday gifts. I don’t remember if my parents MADE me write them, I just knew that I wrote them. If I’m honest, at that age, I most likely wrote thank you notes as a guarantee for birthday presents in years to come rather than as an expression of actual gratitude. But as I grew it became a habit - a habit others noticed.
I remember forgetting to write a thank you card once and my grandmother remarking that she noticed because I was the only one who wrote thank you cards. People notice. I believe showing appreciation is important for developing gratitude in children, and there is no age too young to start. I started with my youngest writing thank you notes at age 3 - I wrote out his words and he would draw pictures. They were only a few sentences long, but they planted the seed of gratitude.
Today, it feels, putting “thanks” on paper is a pastime. As someone who believes in the thank you note, I have tried to pass on my beliefs to others. So as a mother of two children who can write on their own, I make my boys write thank you cards before they are allowed to enjoy any gift they are given. At this point they are well acquainted with the rule and don’t need a lot of supervision from me. However, it wasn’t always that way.
Teaching the importance of writing thank you notes was a difficult habit to build. They struggled not with having to write, but with what to write, especially in elementary school. My youngest is still in elementary school and this is how we normally structure his letters:
- A greeting with the name of the person they are writing too
- What it is they are thankful for
- When and how they plan on using it
- A sentence of appreciation
Dear Grandma and Grandpa,
Thank you for the bouncy ball you gave me for my birthday. I’m looking forward to playing with it this weekend with my friends. Thank you!
For my older boy, who dislikes writing quite a bit, there is a bit more expected. They write the above, but with other elements:
- Something about it they like
- A personal farewell message
Dear Grandma and Grandpa
I celebrated my birthday today and was excited to open my gift from you. I’ve already made plans with my friends this weekend, and the bouncy ball you sent will get plenty of use with all of us. I especially like the color - blue is my favorite color as you probably know. Thank you again for the gift! I love you and miss you!
I know for our family, writing thank you notes was another opportunity to work on writing, developing both the thought process of writing as well as physical penmanship. You know your children and their capabilities so I recommend you do what feels best for them. If they are able to write an essay, by all means, let the ink flow. If they struggle with their words, a few sentences may be enough. To keep the activity from feeling like a chore, help them write a few first and then take a break before writing the rest.
The letters don’t have to be written on Hallmark cards, they can be on construction paper or even college ruled paper. The important part is the writing of the note, not how it looks - however, if your children are into crafts and you have a stickers and markers ready, why not jazz it up. Whatever makes the process more enjoyable.
Sometimes, if I remember, I encourage the boys to write thank you notes to those who have helped them – teachers, coaches, friends, and even after attending sleepovers. I try to teach them that there is no wrong time to send a thank you note.
These skills can translate into adulthood as well. If they have developed a strong habit, writing thank you letters may set them apart in their career field. I have written thank you notes after attending business events, I’ve written to a speaker I enjoyed, and I’ve sent notes to those who have spent their time helping me grow. Like with my grandmother, I have found sending thank you notes sets me apart from those who do not. I want my children to grow and be thought of as grateful people.
Monica K. Guthrie is an Army brat, an Army veteran (Rock of the Marne!) and now an Army spouse with two boys. She is currently the media relations officer for the public affairs office at Fort Sill, Okla., and writes a weekly column called the Okie Bucket List. She also has a photography and graphic design business, Pro Deo Creations, that she maintains between potty training and kissing scraped knees.
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