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Handwriting a note

Reviving a dying art: Handwriting a note of thanks!

December 18th, 2018     By Boys Town Contributor

Family, Parent-Child Relationships, Praise, Teachable Moments

Ugh! Do I haaave to? I said thanks once. Whyyy does Uncle Mac need a thank-you card, too?

If you've never heard your kids grumble or whine about having to take pencil to paper and write out a thank-you note, be glad. With instant messaging apps at their fingertips, most kids think doing it old school isn't super cool, convenient or comfortable… by their standards.      

Of course, maybe you've never heard them complain because you've never asked or encouraged them to write a thank you? If so, uh-oh.

It seems the idea of sending a traditional note of thanks is dying, replaced by instant-message emojis, texts that randomly pop up as "thnx" or, to the chagrin of Emily Post, nothing at all.

What a shame.  

Why write now...

A good old-fashioned handwritten thank you is a quintessential expression of gratitude. Having your kids send notes of appreciation when they're the recipient of a gift or a goodwill gesture is just proper etiquette. It also requires some reflection, which is good for the heart and soul! And, no, that's not an exaggeration. 

According to research, everything from more optimism and happiness to well-being and empathy can result from feeling and acting grateful. Simply composing a thank you can nurture a sense of gratitude and appreciation. This is especially true for our kids. So as the season of holiday parties and presents fast approaches, now is the time to preach, practice and perfect the art of writing thanks.

How to start…

Composing thank-you notes is best done in a quiet, distraction-free environment. Writing requires attention and focus, so kids should unplug their electronics and concentrate on the task. A sturdy writing surface (desk or dining table) and a good writing instrument (sharpened pencil/crayon, smudge-free ink pen or marker) are essential for readability. Also, have plenty of paper (mistakes and rewrites are a given), stamps and envelopes. Oh, and don't forget the mailing addresses.

What to say…

At Boys Town, one of the many social skills kids learn is how to show appreciation. Having our boys and girls compose thank-you notes is one way we teach and reinforce that skill. Showing appreciation involves stating what someone did, expressing why it was appreciated and describing how it was beneficial. This requires some thought but it ensures the message is sincere. For example, which of these thank-you notes would you rather read?

This: "Thanks for the cash."

Or this: "Thank you for remembering my birthday. The money was great. I'm saving half and using the rest to buy video games. Come over and play anytime!"

It's probably safe to assume you'd prefer to receive the second note, which sounds more authentic (and certainly less glib) than the first. So before your kids put pen to paper, offer some examples like this so they can see what a good thank-you note looks and sounds like.

Obviously, the age and writing ability of a child will dictate the length and depth of the message. Children who are still learning their letters, for example, can be encouraged to draw pictures. Anything from a stick figure to a sunset will make a recipient's face light up. A rough rule of thumb for older children is to have the number of sentences equal half their age. So, an 8-year-old should write at least four sentences.        

When to write…

Acknowledgements should be done in a timely fashion. This ensures no one forgets or gets mixed up about who sent what and why. A day or two after receiving a gift is a great time for a child to grab pen and paper. However, that may not always be practical, especially if there are a lot of people to be thanked. When that's the case, have children do a few thank-you notes each day. This will keep them from getting overwhelmed, bored or burned out.    

When to write isn't just about timeliness though; it's also about knowing who and what deserves a shout-out.

Holidays, birthdays and other similar milestones are easy to recognize. But there are other moments when a written note is appropriate and necessary, such as after acts of kindness (a neighbor provides your child with free tickets to the game), friendship (the new kid in the neighborhood invites your child to a sleepover) or cooperation (a tech-savvy cousin takes time to hook up and integrate all of your child's gaming systems).

As parents, we need to help our children broaden their understanding of thankfulness to include everyday generosity.

Thank-you calendar... and special notecards!

If reading this has you thinking your family has been a little lax in the thank-you department, don't be discouraged. But do get motivated!

Grab a calendar and a pencil now in preparation for writing and sending thank-you cards after the holidays. And if you need extra stationery, don't worry. Check out these one-of-a-kind notecards designed by Boys Town youth. They're free when you make a holiday donation to Boys Town. 

In the New Year, make showing more gratitude and being more thankful a family goal. With a little practice, that goal will become a healthy (and happy!) routine.       

PS... Thank you for taking time out of your day to read this post… it's greatly appreciated! Here's hoping we all have much to be grateful for in the New Year! (See what we did here?)

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