How to Teach a Child to Write Thank You Notes

How many of us remember having to write thank-you notes to those who gave us gifts at Christmas or any other time of the year?

Are thank you notes a thing of the past?

For those who use a quick text or post on Facebook to express thanks, writing thank you notes may seem passé. But it can be a wonderful way to teach children the importance of telling someone that their present was appreciated.

Writing thank you notes helps children learn about the importance of gratitude and sharing the impact of someone’s generosity.

Some of the other benefits of having children write thank you notes:

  • It gives them time to reflect on what it means to be thankful, to appreciate someone has cared about them. There is something very positive about slowing down to think about the meaning of giving and being given to.
  • It allows them to be creative, to practice putting their thoughts into words, to describe their feelings and even tell a story about how they have enjoyed a gift.
  • It gives them the power of knowing their thank you note will make someone else happy in return. (Parents can describe how Aunt Mildred is going to feel so happy when she gets the letter, that she is going to read it, smile and think of you.) That message can give a child a sense of self-importance because of the power to cause others to have positive feelings, to think of him/her and feel good.
  • It gives them practice writing, learning to use paper and pen or pencil, and then addressing envelopes, writing return addresses, and putting on stamps. These actions provide opportunities to explain how letters go through the post offices, how streets are different from towns and cities, which are different from states and even countries. One can share how people design stamps and collect them, or why we include a return address. Parents can use these moments to help children realize all that goes into sending something in the mail.

What if a child is too young to write?

Children who are not yet able to write letters can still dictate a message of thanks that the parent writes on their behalf. Children can be amazed to discover they can generate messages that can be sent to others!

Children can also draw pictures to include in the note that parents can explain will make the recipient smile and feel close to the child. “I think Mrs. Smith will put your picture on her refrigerator to show everyone how much she liked getting it!”

Children may need help with the design of their thank you notes.

Parents can explain where the date it placed so the recipient knows when the letter was written and that you start by writing a greeting like, “Dear Grammy” or “Hello Uncle Mitch.”

Parents can help children by sharing that the standard note starts with something like, “Thank you for…” but can encourage children to make each note their own.

Parents can suggest that children make sure they share how the gift made them feel, what they first thought when they opened it and/or some of the ways they are using it. “Grandpa would love to know that you were so proud to be able to take pictures with the new camera he gave you,“  “Your cousin would like to know that  you jumped up and down because you couldn’t believe she remembered how much you like to get new art supplies.”

Children may balk at having to sit down and write thank you notes when they would rather be outside playing.

However, teaching how to write thank you notes is a gift parents give their children as it illustrates the values of how important these tangible gestures of gratitude are. Parents can model to children the notes they write. Parents can also take the time to write thank you notes to their own children for things they have given or done, or just for how special they are as a part of the family. Children can then learn firsthand the power of receiving a written note from someone who took the time to express their thoughts and feelings in writing to them.

Invitation to Reflect

  1. Do you remember writing thank you notes as a child? How did you feel about doing that? What made it a positive experience or if it wasn’t a positive experience, what might have helped?
  2. What do you need to do to help your children understand the importance of writing thank you notes to people who have given them gifts or who have been generous and kind in other ways?
  3. Plan ways to make the experience of writing thank you notes rewarding to your children. You might be delighted one day when they are grown to be on the receiving end of some very touching thank you notes from them!

Diane Wagenhals, Director of Institute for Professional Education and Development, Lakeside Educational Network