Thank you notes appear to be on the brink of becoming an extinct art. Environmentalists, no doubt, will argue that it wastes paper. Techies might argue that an email will suffice. Yet, thank you notes are still used religiously for formal occasions such as weddings, baby showers or bar mitzvahs. So it seems appropriate that my children should participate in writing their own thank you notes now.
For many years, we have written their thank you notes. When they were old enough to scribble something with crayons that looked like a drawing, we encouraged them to do so. Now my son is seven and able to do them all on his own. For my daughter, who just celebrated her fifth birthday, I wrote out “Dear” and the name of the person she was addressing. She lettered that on to the note and then dictated to me what she wanted to say to the person, based on what they had given her, then took it back, wrote “Love” and her name. She then determined whether to decorate it with stickers or not. Because she had had a Star Wars dress-up party, we also included photos of her friends from the photo booth in the thank you notes, a slightly belated party gift.
I can imagine my own parents may laugh as they read this, recalling how resistant I used to be to writing thank you notes while I did them. Clearly, however, their persistence worked as I now understand the value of thank you notes. For one thing, they, of course, teach kids to say thank you; not just in person but in a more formal and respectful way. We have tried to impress upon our children that people are not obligated to give them gifts, even if it is a birthday, and that the best way to show appreciation is by saying thank you.
Thank you notes also give an opportunity to talk about how the gift is being used or about the fun time had at a party and they can bring out nostalgic sentiments that a child can’t always convey when they are with their friends at school. It is not uncommon for one of my children to tell their friends that they love them in a thank you note but it is far less likely that they would do that in person. Furthermore, it gives them the opportunity to say how they much they appreciated that their friends attended their birthday party. With all of the running around that we do these days, with activities on the weekends and classes, it is a likely scenario that getting to any birthday party might have been hard work. It’s nice to tell friends how much we appreciate their efforts.
Another perk of thank you notes is being on the receiving end. When kids are young, they like getting mail. It makes them feel important. It is even cooler if it is from a friend of theirs even if they read the note and then throw it away immediately.
It hadn’t truly occurred to me the idea of thank you notes was sinking in with my kids until my son attended a birthday party several months ago and was then bummed out when he didn’t receive a thank you note. I was startled and impressed. He had worked very hard on his notes at his birthday and I was glad that he realized what it felt like to be on the other end when someone doesn’t say thank you in a formal way. Perhaps that will make it easier when he has to write the next round.
Elana Gartner is a freelance writer and an award-winning playwright. Other articles of hers can be found at Kveller.com, A Child Grows in Brooklyn, Mom365.com, Park Slope Stoop and other publications. She founded the EMG Playwriting Workshop which fosters a supportive community for NYC playwrights. More about her playwriting is available at: http://www.elanagartner.com. Elana lives in Brooklyn, NY with her husband, son and daughter.