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OT: Forcing Kids to Write Thank You Notes Doesn't Make Them Grateful

Posted by on Dec. 30, 2013 at 10:46 AM
  • 11 Replies

Forcing Kids to Write Thank You Notes Doesn't Make Them Grateful

by Jeanne Sager

thank you noteWell, Christmas is over, so you know what time it is, don't you folks? It's time for the semi-annual fight over the dreaded thank you notes.

In my house it goes something like this: I tell the child she needs to thank her aunts and uncles for her goodies. She groans. Loudly. Oh, and to think I once thought the world's worst sound was nails on the chalkboard. I was wrong.

The most annoying sound in the world, the sound guaranteed to set every parent on edge, is that groan of an exasperated nearly tween who is raring for a fight with her (or his) parents.

I used to be really good about thank you notes. Even when my wrists were on fire from pregnancy-induced carpal tunnel syndrome, I carefully hand wrote a card for each and every baby shower gift.

But then my daughter came along, and I just got ... busy. I would give verbal thank yous always, and sometimes I would write the actual cards, but often I'd forget or -- and this speaks to the scattered brain of a mom -- simply forget to send them.

It wasn't until a few years ago, as my daughter became more adept at writing, that I realized I really needed to get back in the habit. More to the point: I needed to get HER in the habit.

We've always stressed gratitude for gifts, stressed being thankful and saying thank you, stressed not expecting material things and enjoying the company of our friends at parties or family at Christmas. And yet, I feared it was not enough.

Writing thank you notes, I assumed, is the traditional manner of expressing thanks, and something my child must learn to do. Only these days I'm beginning to question whether it's really worth it.

After every gift-giving event, a war breaks out between child and parents. Saying thank you, my daughter will tell us, should be enough. Writing a thank you note, the 8-year-old reasons, is just icing on the cake.

Only unlike real icing -- which kids would prefer in mass quantities, the better for poking their fingers in and licking -- there's absolutely no enjoyment in writing thank you notes.

Sure, you can wax poetic about the inner joy to be found when you express your gratitude to someone, but let's get real. To an 8-year-old, writing a thank you note is a chore. End of story.

And I'm not so sure what that chore actually teaches my child.

That she needs to "earn" her gifts by spending time nose-to-the-grindstone? That with all good things comes a little pain and suffering?

I suppose those messages might teach kids a little bit about entitlement, but I thought thank you notes were supposed to be about gratitude.

Is my kid really learning to be thankful for something when it's directly linked to doing something she abhors? Is she really showing "thanks" when she's miserable?

A thank you note written by an angry child is really no more a sign of true thanks than an "I'm sorry" that an equally angry child is forced to give a hurt sibling by their parents. The kid says they're sorry, but do they really mean it? Nope.

So what are they saying in a thank you note they don't want to write? If anything, I wonder if sitting kids down to do thank you notes doesn't build up more resentment than anything.

Because if I push myself hard enough, I can think back to when I was a kid and I had to write thank you notes myself. And if I'm completely honest with myself, I can recognize that my attitude was on par with my daughter's.

I hated it. I hated the way my wrist cramped up. I hated having to come up with an outright lie about how I loved that hideous sweater from Granny.

If I sound like a brat, I'm sorry. I'm not perfect, but I think I was a pretty typical kid. And I was a grateful one. I didn't get a lot of presents as a kid, so I did have a true appreciation for people who thought of me. I still do.

But it isn't the thank you notes that made me that way. I've learned about being thankful via verbal thanks and actually doing things for other people. I am one of those people who loves buying and making things for other people much more than receiving ... something I'm trying to instill in my daughter. I tend to think that's gratitude: being grateful for what you have an wanting to pass it on to others to make their lives better.

If you have a kid who -- God love 'em -- actually enjoys writing thank you notes, then by all means, have them scribble 'em out to their heart's content. But if it's a fight to get the kids to write thank you notes, maybe there's another way to teach them this lesson ... one that won't make them resentful and angry?

Do you force the kids to write thank you notes?

How else do you help teach them to be grateful for the things they receive?

by on Dec. 30, 2013 at 10:46 AM
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Replies (1-10):
usmom3
by BJ on Dec. 30, 2013 at 11:16 AM

 We don't do thank you notes but my children don't get much from people outside of my Husband & myself.

Jinx-Troublex3
by Jinx on Dec. 30, 2013 at 11:29 AM
3 moms liked this

You suck it up!! If you aren't willing to take the time to write a thank you note, hen you need to tell people not to send anything!! I even told my kids one year, you havea choice, I willNOT force you to write a TY note. If you choose not to write a tY note, then mail the gift back!

The way to make themg grateful is to have them volunteer, to see how others live, to talk about love and repect. If you respect someone, you show it with gratitude.

Now, we do NOT do TY notes for my parents, who they see daily. however, ny Uncle always sends a family gift card that is a big blessing and he lives several states away. After we go shop with it, we each write a little note and thank them forwhatever we picked out so that he can enjoy the fun of finding out what gift he gave everyone.  We will do the same for my bio-Dad's widow. We wre never super close but he passed away 2 years ago and she continues to send the kids a small token gift. We might see her once a year and she will get a  TY note.

hwblyf
by Silver Member on Dec. 30, 2013 at 11:36 AM
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We do thank you notes.  Not always timely, but I make them tell the person why they liked the gift and such.  It helps them to think about reasons behind liking the gift as well.  And if they don't like the gift, it gives them an opportunity to come up with some creative descriptions.  No, it doesn't sound good, the whole fight.  I hate the whole fight.  But it does teach responsibility.  And it teaches acknowledgement.  Kids don't like to brush their teeth, either, but they have to do that as well.

bluerooffarm
by Gold Member on Dec. 30, 2013 at 12:04 PM
1 mom liked this

Is getting the gift a chore?  We do TY notes for extended family and especially for people who had gifts shipped to us because they weren't able to get around to deliver in person.  If they are not thankful enough to send a TY card, then the gift isn't worth having.

Mandallyn
by Member on Dec. 30, 2013 at 12:07 PM
2 moms liked this
I don't care if writing the thank you note makes them grateful or not. The people who receive the notes are grateful for the recognition! They have to learn to take time to say they're grateful even if they don't want to.
TidewaterClan
by on Dec. 30, 2013 at 12:25 PM
1 mom liked this

This nicely sums up how I feel.  

Quoting Mandallyn: I don't care if writing the thank you note makes them grateful or not. The people who receive the notes are grateful for the recognition! They have to learn to take time to say they're grateful even if they don't want to.


Chasing3
by Bronze Member on Dec. 30, 2013 at 12:53 PM
1 mom liked this

well, maybe it doesn't. But it teaches them to be polite.

I've also spent a lot of time on the front end of gift giving with my kids, that is: preparing them in advance of an occasion that someone is about to give them a gift, and it might be something they don't want or already have. BUT, you say thank you and smile and pretend you love it! Because they spent the time to give you something and they were hoping you'd like it. Heck, you got a free thing! Like it or not, it's something you didn't have a few minutes ago and there is a good use for it some way or another.

No_Difference
by Silver Member on Dec. 30, 2013 at 12:57 PM
1 mom liked this

 Normally we do thank you notes, or a thank you gift, something super small, not really costly, and homemade with a little tag that says thank you, depending on who we're sending it too and where they're located. This year, my friends and neighbors all helped out to make Christmas for the kids, but they all demanded the gifts be from Santa and not them (my kids do still very much believe in Santa, even the 9 yr old). I would normally have them write a thank you, but I think I'll be doing it this year since they don't realize who they're really from. They will however, be writing thank yous to their Uncles, to their great-grandparents, and to my parents since they were the only ones who sent things...and are the only ones who live out of state (and country in the case of my brother...though I'm not sure how we're going to get that thank you to them since they won't give me their address :{ )

I've stressed with the kids that taking the time to say thank you shows you appreciate the person, and not necessarily what the person gave. So even if they got the ugliest sweater known to man kind, they still have to write "thank you for the sweater." If they opened it and said something nasty about it right away, then they also have to write something nice about the sweater in the thank you, and think about why the person got that particular sweater for them. 

hipmomto3
by Bronze Member on Dec. 30, 2013 at 1:51 PM

ITA with this.

I don't make them write thank you notes for Christmas, but I do for birthdays. Whether or not it increases their gratitude is beside the point. There is a lost (or at least, fading) art of handwritten correspondence that I want my children to take part in, and writing notes of thanks is a great way to do that. 

Quoting hwblyf:

But it does teach responsibility.  And it teaches acknowledgement.  Kids don't like to brush their teeth, either, but they have to do that as well.

I guess now that I think about it, we don't do it at Christmas because it's more of a "gift exchanging" thing - we give gifts to others, they give gifts to us. But birthdays, and other events (like bridal or baby showers) - the gift exchange is only going in one direction.

I've been sadly surprised to have given numerous bridal and baby shower gifts in the past few years and never receiving a thank you note. Even a six months later note is appreciated! 

hwblyf
by Silver Member on Dec. 30, 2013 at 2:07 PM

We, in the past, have done a secret Santa thing leading up to Christmas in order to practice saying thank you and learning how to be gracious in the moment for things they might call lame or even worse.  If we don't teach these things, how do they learn them?  And the handwritten note is far more important than I think we tend to realize in our hectic lives.  But most of us appreciate a handwritten note far more than an email.  It takes time, it takes effort, and it takes a bit more thought.  In my opinion.  And that's why to do it.  :)

Not getting a note from a bridal shower or wedding--wow.  I am amazed, though, at how little gratitude is exhibited at those glorious times. 

Quoting hipmomto3:

ITA with this.

I don't make them write thank you notes for Christmas, but I do for birthdays. Whether or not it increases their gratitude is beside the point. There is a lost (or at least, fading) art of handwritten correspondence that I want my children to take part in, and writing notes of thanks is a great way to do that. 

Quoting hwblyf:

But it does teach responsibility.  And it teaches acknowledgement.  Kids don't like to brush their teeth, either, but they have to do that as well.

I guess now that I think about it, we don't do it at Christmas because it's more of a "gift exchanging" thing - we give gifts to others, they give gifts to us. But birthdays, and other events (like bridal or baby showers) - the gift exchange is only going in one direction.

I've been sadly surprised to have given numerous bridal and baby shower gifts in the past few years and never receiving a thank you note. Even a six months later note is appreciated! 


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