Why (and how) you should encourage your kids to embrace the thank-you note. And cultivate an attitude of gratitude along the way.
Writing thank-you notes has gotten a bad rap as a chore but a note of thanks can do more than dutifully tell Uncle Max how much you like the Word Yahtzee that he sent. Gratitude may be crucial to compassion, empathy, and even happiness, according to Jeffrey Froh, an assistant professor of psychology and the director of the Laboratory for Gratitude in Youth at Hofstra University, in Hempstead, New York. Why? Thanks for asking!
“Grateful kids tend to be much more satisfied with their lives,” says Froh. “They do better in school and are less materialistic, less depressed, and less envious. Their relationships are much stronger and more supportive.” In one study, grateful kids even reported fewer physical symptoms, like headaches, stomachaches, and fevers.
Thank-you notes don’t have to be reserved for physical loot: Your kids can write them in appreciation of awesome outings or good friendship. “My five-year-old borrowed my phone to type a thank-you text to his mom for a special day that they had spent together,” says Froh. The key is to make it a creative project in which kids get to express themselves. And when they craft their sentiments, you’ll get the chance to appreciate your unique, sometimes wacky little people.
To Make Thank-Yous More Meaningful
Set a time for it. There’s something wrong about trying to teach gratitude by nagging or rushing a kid. Get some snacks and settle in.
Gather your resources. A correspondence kit is a fun motivator. Put one together with note cards, a return-address stamper, a great pen, postage stamps, stickers, a first address book, and even sealing wax and a monogram seal.
Be the designated writer. A child who can’t write yet, or one who is just learning, will feel more grateful if she doesn’t have to agonize over sentences. Also, transcribing her thanks gives you a chance to capture the depth and the complexity of her feelings. (“Thank you for the game Candy Land, which has Queen Frostine, which is who I love so much even though it’s who Ben loves, too, and so we fight sometimes.”)
Teach sincerity. You want your kids to learn to be authentically gracious. Aunt Ida’s terrifying woolen anorak? Skip “Thank you for the beautiful sweater—I love it!” and talk your child through what is true. “Dear Aunt Ida, it must have taken you so long to crochet this. The wool feels really warm, and you remembered that my favorite color is green! Thank you so much.”
Do it now—and later. Every now and then, encourage your child to send another note, long after the fact, just to make somebody’s day—especially for a gift that has turned out to be a favorite. “Remember that moose hat you gave me last Christmas? Here’s a picture of me wearing it on our trip to Niagara Falls!”
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