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November 2017 Subscribe to the Toddlers to Tweens newsletter >>

Encouraging Gratitude through Thank-you Notes

by Vicki Bentley
HSLDA Toddlers to Tweens Consultant

And on the topic of giving thanks

While thank-you notes are a practical way to show appreciation, our family’s goal is not to simply raise children who write thank-you notes, but to encourage our children to be aware of and to appreciate the kindnesses shown them—to have an attitude of gratitude. So at Thanksgiving dinner, our tradition has been to put two kernels of candy corn by each person’s plate. Each person is welcome to share two things for which they were grateful, and then eat the candy corn. They are more than happy to consider all their blessings!

Here are some ideas and resources you may find helpful in cultivating gratitude in your family this fall:

And this is one of my favorite verses on thankfulness:

“Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.” Psalm 107:1 (NIV)

The 2018 student art contest will begin accepting entries December 1.

Vicki Bentley
Vicki Bentley

The holidays are just around the corner, and that often means gift-giving . . . and receiving—which prompts an appropriate show of appreciation: a thank-you note. Once children are old enough to scribble with crayon on paper, they can help send a note of appreciation.

Who should receive a thank-you note? Well, the traditional rule of thumb is that, for starters, a note should always be sent to express gratitude for a gift opened when the giver was not present.

When my children were young, I kept a notepad nearby during the holidays as they opened gifts from far-away relatives so we could record which gift was given to whom by whom. As the children got older, they were encouraged—and later, expected—to keep track of these themselves. Since we lived far from our large, extended family, I had each child make a master sheet ahead of time with the names of each person from whom she was likely to open a gift at the holiday—then when she opened a package, she had only to find the name on the list and record the gift. The list provided a visual reminder of all that was included in each gift, which made it easier to write a specific thank-you note.

Gather your supplies

  • Pick out stationery or cards in advance—better yet, let them make their own cards or note paper.
  • Buy some festive postage stamps.
  • Provide colorful pens or pencils, stickers, even monogrammed labels or sealing wax, to encourage creativity.

Make writing thank-you notes an occasion

Set it up as a family affair, with all the children (and mom and dad!) composing their notes together. Finish the writing event with a game and hot cocoa or another treat.

Keep it age-appropriate

Rachel Ramey of Titus 2 Homemaker says:

For anyone in our household old enough to wield a pencil, [thank-you notes] are non-negotiable. The older children are taught to say thank you for the gift, say one thing specific about it (what they spent the money on, that they like the color of the shirt, etc.), and write (at least) one more sentence unrelated to the gift (I love and miss you; how is the baby—whatever).

The younger ones, just learning to write, generally just do fill-in-the-blanks: Dear ______. Thank you for ____________. Love, ________. It develops the habit, but doesn’t strain their limited writing ability.

When Grandma sends a present, you can prompt your toddler to narrate to you what he likes about the gift, then you write the thank-you note and let your toddler scribble at the bottom of it (then translate for Grandma!). Tell him he’s signing it for her.

For your preschooler, write his name and let him try to copy it, but don’t push—simply make the tools available.

Later, you’ll write the note and he’ll really sign his name. Then a few months later, maybe he can write the thank-you part and you can add … “for the red truck you gave me. Love, . . . ” and he can sign his name.

By about age 6 or 7, he will likely be able to write “Dear Grandma,” “Thank you . . . ,” and his name—and you just fill in the rest.

Within another year or two, your child should be able to write his own short letter of thanks—including a comment about the item, how he is using it, and a bit of personal information.

Ideas from other moms

I asked some moms: How do you encourage your kids to write thank-you notes? Here’s what they said:

  • I am very big on my kids writing thank-you notes. I want them to be grateful and not entitled … When they were little, I sat down beside them and helped them think of a creative thank-you note. Now they easily do it on their own. Sometimes, if someone has done something for our whole family (had us over for a meal or something) then I buy a big thank-you note and we all include a sentence or two. —Kim S.
  • I have them write one thank-you note each school day, instead of their normal handwriting assignment, until all the notes are done. I usually just give them a few pointers on what to say, and let them take it from there. (Although by now they’re so accustomed to thank-you notes that they don’t usually need pointers anymore.) For the younger ones, I have them dictate the note to me, and then I write it neatly for them to copy—much easier than spelling all those words aloud to them. Integrating it into the school day definitely helps it to actually get done! —Jayme M.
  • Part of the “personal” in thank-you notes for us was to always “make” them. We made stationery or little cards with markers and colored pencils. Our [missionary] kids did this a lot, for people were sending them things from the U.S. all the time. Now our son, a junior in college, just sent a thank-you note and gift card to a friend’s family in appreciation for their holiday hospitality—yes, I think the habit stuck! —Sonya H.
  • My kids usually make a card and write the note. We use construction paper or whatever looks good to them to make it. When they are too young to write without help, sometimes I will write it and they sign it and draw a picture. As far as special formats, I have kept it simple so far. But my daughter is learning the correct way to address letters and envelopes now, so we will be incorporating that into her thank-you notes as she learns. I let them address as much of the envelope as they are able as well, and quiz them where to put the stamp and return address. Then we usually decorate the envelope with stickers. —Heather E.
  • My policy was that they did not get to use the gift or check until the thank-you was written. —Karen R. and Debra C.
  • Coloring pictures for someone is a great way to start when they are too young to form letters. Toddlers are just as capable of learning a heart of gratitude! —Heather Y.
  • Have “thank you” rubber stamps, ink pads, and blank cards and various doodads, scrapbook papers, fancy-edge scissors and ribbons and stickers for them to use when they (the girls more than the boys) want to craft their own cards. —Debra H.
  • We buy fun, pretty cards and stickers at the dollar store. After birthdays and special outings or events, I help my kids write thank-you notes to family and friends. My daughter enjoys including art work, stickers, or ink stamps on the cards. —Faith B.
  • They definitely enjoy it best when they make the cards, whether we do it with stamps, clip art, or paper and glue. We always write the note on lined paper first to practice handwriting, etc. When they were younger, I would lightly line the card with pencil so they could stay straight, then we’d erase the lines. —Toni L.
  • I keep a supply of thank-you notes in my desk drawer. For Christmas gifts, I would recycle old Christmas cards (discard the back, saving the front for use) and have the kids pick the ones they wanted to use to send to grandparents. And we all pretty much did a “thank-you” day all at once—mom and dad, too, thus modeling by example. —Debra H.

Gratitude isn’t only for presents

Other opportunities to express thanks include:

When someone has shown hospitality—Whether the occasion was an invitation to dinner or out for ice cream, or a sleepover or a party at a friend’s house, or just lunch at grandma’s, a short note of thanks is always appropriate.

When someone has done something helpful or kind—Perhaps a co-op teacher has gone out of her way to bring a lesson to life or someone has taken a child on a field trip or helped her learn a new skill. Or maybe a friend has said something thoughtful or stuck up for your child. Even the gift of friendship itself could be the occasion for a note of appreciation.

When someone has extended an opportunity—The organizers of field trips, spelling bees, the county fair, classes, and other local events love to hear from children about how the opportunities have helped them to learn and grow. After all, that’s the reason they offer these events!

As your child gets older, he’ll have occasion to thank job interviewers for considering him, and teachers for teaching him, and elders for mentoring him. Most of these recipients don’t often get notes of thanks and will remember them—many will even treasure them. But most of all, they will appreciate that your child showed thoughtfulness, gratitude, respect, and good manners.

A few more resources

“Thank-You Note Tips for Children” by Emily Post
“Script and Scribble Thank-you Notes” by Rachel Ramey
“5 Tips for Writing Thank-You Notes with Kids” by Catherine Newman
“12 Tips for Helping Your Child Write Thank-you Notes”
“Thank-You Notes: To Send or Not to Send” by Emily Post
“Really Easy Note Card Tutorial” Titus 2 Homemaker
“How to Write a Thank-You Note” by Jeanne Field for Hallmark
“What to Write in a Thank-You Card” (Hallmark)
“Perfect Thank-You Notes: Heartfelt and Handwritten” (NPR Staff)

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