We all know how hard it is to get our kids to write thank-you notes. That’s why most of us give up, right?
But maybe we’ve just been going about it all wrong.
Sometimes it’s better to think outside the boxed notes.
An effective thank-you doesn’t have to involve fancy note cards, says Jeffrey Froh, associate professor of psychology at Hofstra and the co-author of Making Grateful Kids. Oh, yeah, he’s also a dad of two (ages 5 and 9) and as a former school psychologist has logged a lot of hours with real (often writing resistant!) kids.
“Let your kids use their strengths in expressing their thanks,” he told me. He realized the magic of this idea while he was seeing a troubled student in therapy. Froh had enlisted an art teacher at the school to supply some materials for the boy to draw with while he talked to Froh in counseling sessions. When Froh suggested to the student that he write her a thank-you letter for them, the boy asked, “Is it okay if I draw one?”
“He created an incredible picture of a cartoon character extending a bouquet of flowers,” Froh remembers. The art teacher melted.
The point is, it really is the thought that counts. Especially if you have a kid who views writing anything as a special kind of torture invented by parents and teachers, don’t fight it. Let him do it his way. You might be surprised how fast kids get into this “chore” when it becomes an opportunity for self-expression.
Maybe your child would prefer to say thanks with…
- a drawing or painting of the gift
- a selfie taken while wearing a new item of clothing
- a video recording
- a collage made up of the word “thanks”
- a poem
Set a scene that says fun, not chore.
Maybe you have a child who actually likes to write (or, at least, doesn’t mind the idea) but is a little clueless about how to do it. If so, clear the table, put on a crowd-pleasing playlist, and gather all the supplies you’ll need, like paper, pens, and stamps. Maybe join in yourself, too, to subtly underscore the idea that thank-you’s are just a part of life for all of us.
Now consider adding some items that amp up the fun:
- Colored pens. Silver and gold markers tend to be irresistibly festive for lots of kids.
- Personalized stationery. Some kids are motivated by seeing their names or pictures on their thank-you paper. Pick out a design together at sites like Shutterfly or Tiny Prints.
- Favorite snacks. Think of it as gratitude fuel. A greasy fingerprint or two on a note doesn’t dilute its meaning, and if it keeps your kid at the table longer, why not?
Here’s what to say:
When your kids break into the universal whine, “But I don’t know what to saaaaaaay!” consider it your cue to introduce the super-simple Froh Formula. We mentioned his basic three-step idea for conveying gratitude in this post on the secret to raising grateful kids but its worth repeating in the context of thank-you notes:
1) Recognize the giver’s intent: Somebody put you first (in this case, by giving you a gift).
Dear Grandma, thank you for sending me a new sweater.
2) Acknowledge the cost: That somebody gave up something for you. They put effort into thinking about what you’d like or are interested in, for example. They went to a store or took the time to make something. They spent their money and/or time.
You always think about what colors would look good on me and pick out the prettiest yarn at the store. I know you spent a lot of time making it.
3) Talk about the benefit: That’s what you got out of it.
I’ll be warm this winter wearing that sweater when we go skiing—and it will look great in all the pictures!Breaking down a thank-you note using this formula means your child always has something to say that’s authentic and meaningful.
Bonus: Research shows that using this intent-cost-benefit formula actually makes your child feel more grateful, Froh says. So by encouraging this kind of thank-you note, you’re making Grandma feel happy—but also teaching your child a lesson in gratitude.
Yup, even if the gift is a fugly sweater or a toy your child hates. Thinking about the giver’s effort is an important lesson for kids that makes it less about me, me, me.
Thank you’s are a gift that keeps on giving.
The school holidays are ideal for sending thanks for Christmas or Hannukah gifts because the receiving is still fresh in everybody’s mind and there’s no homework fatigue to compete with kids’ attention and energy. But it works at any time of year for any kind of gift.
Setting your kids up for success this way does more than tick a box on the To Do list, or even teach your kids good manners.
“Expressing thanks for gifts is about more than just being polite. It helps make appreciation a habit,” Froh says. And the simple act of showing thoughtfulness back to a giver makes kids’ hearts feel a little bigger and better.