"Thank You" Note Etiquette for Kids

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Molly Street, 6, contemplates how she wants to decorate a hand-written thank you note at her mother's stationary store.

When it comes to writing thank you notes, Jenny Street's kids take different approaches. Molly, 6, eagerly selects her stationery, writes a personal message and decorates her notes with balloons, hearts and flowers. wen, 8, needs a bit more coaxing from Mom and favors fill-in-the-blank cards that don't require the same effort.

"He's a boy -- he doesn't want to be bothered," says Street, who manages a stationery store in Phoenix.

If there's a downside to the holidays for some children, it may be writing thank you notes. It's up to parents to make sure the job still gets done, etiquette experts say, for reasons beyond letting far-flung relatives know their gifts arrived.

"It reinforces the lesson of gratitude and appreciation for others' time and effort," says Michèle O'Reilly, director of the Connecticut School of Etiquette, in Darien, Connecticut.

Adds Jean Summers, author of "The Kids' Guide to Writing Great Thank-You Notes" (Writers' Collective, 2005): "As our lives get more and more high-tech, people are starting to treasure handmade things. These are keepsakes."

Creating these keepsakes doesn't have to be a chore.

Kids enjoy note-writing more when it's a family affair, Summers says. Parents, too, should be sending thank yous after the holidays, and everyone can work together at the kitchen table. Even if Mom and Dad aren't writing, they should be ready with encouragement and help with addresses, spelling and, if necessary, sentiment.

"It doesn't have to be a novel," O'Reilly says. "It's a few sentences that are sincere and are meant for the person who gave it to you."

Twelve-year-old Emma Joyce generally handles the task on her own but will ask her mother's opinion when acknowledging a gift she's not so fond of.

"Sometimes she takes my advice, sometimes she doesn't," laughs her mom, Elizabeth, of Ridgefield, Connecticut.

Another way to increase the fun factor: Treat thank you notes as an art project instead of a homework assignment, O'Reilly suggests. Kids are more apt to jump in when they can include a drawing, or dress up their stationery with markers and stickers.

Enclosing a photo of your child with the gift will further personalize each note and delight recipients, Summers adds.

Older kids who have had their fill of the handwritten thank you may suggest sending their sentiments via e-mail. That decision should depend on the recipient, Summers says. "If that person is on the computer a lot and sends e-mails, that's perfectly fine."

But remember the disadvantage, O'Reilly warns. "E-mails can be deleted, phone calls can be forgotten. Usually when you send a written thank you, it's something that hangs around for a while."

Some other tips for parents from the etiquette pros:

  • Start kids young. Children who can't yet write can dictate their thoughts to Mom or Dad. As they grow, they can scribble their name or add a picture. Fill-in-the-blank notes are fine for beginning writers, but once children are capable of writing a full note, they should.
  • Stay on the fast track. Although "better late than never" does apply to thank you notes, there's a trick to speed the process: Tell kids they can't play with, wear or otherwise enjoy the gift until the note is in the mail, O'Reilly suggests.
  • Set reasonable expectations and a reasonable pace. Summers suggests breaking up the task over several days and offering a small reward at the end of each writing session.
  • Savor the results. Elaine Apostle, who works with Street at Write-Ons Etc., required her sons to write thank you notes throughout their childhoods. Now 37 and 39, "they're still doing it," says Apostle proudly. After Apostle interviewed for her job, son Christopher had this reminder: "Mom, did you send a thank you note?"
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    One of my SendOutCards colleagues forwarded this article and I thought I'd share it with my Active Rain buddies. I can't resist a shaeless plug for our extraordinary system that allows you to send cards through the US mail (not e-cards) in your own handwriting at the click of a mouse.
    Please accept my invitation to take a free test drive at SendOutSpecialCards.com
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