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

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?


Image via stevendepolo/Flickr


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