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In Defense of Thank-You Notes

“But Mom, nobody writes thank you notes anymore. But Mom, Gramma was here when I opened it and I said thank you then. But Mom, I can e-mail her. But Mom, it’s bor-ing! But Mom, I hate writing notes. But Mom, I don’t even like that red sweater she gave me.”

You can probably already hear my responses: “You’re not nobody. Grandma deserves much more than a hug. E-mail is impersonal. Only boring people are bored with thanking someone who loves them so much they gave them a gift. I don’t care if you hate it. It’s the thought that counts.”

From this mom’s point of view, the ritual of thank-you notes is a completion of the season. After the candles are extinguished; after the tree comes down; after the holiday meals and gifts and treats, whatever the tradition, whatever the holiday, it’s time for us all to acknowledge those who have extended themselves to make our holiday bright.

It’s not about duty. It’s not about form. It’s not about doing what Grandma expects so she’ll come through when birthdays roll around. Writing thank-you notes, and helping our children write them, is about establishing and maintaining a habit of appreciation that is an important part of loving relationships.

Gratitude doesn’t come naturally to most children. We have to teach them. Gratitude is too often put off by adults. We have to take the time. It is up to us to gently explain to our children that kindness is not something to take for granted; thoughtfulness is something to be valued. Thank-you notes are a way to appreciate that someone made the effort to make or purchase, wrap, and deliver a gift. Even if the gift isn’t a thrill, the effort matters.

So, parents, here’s the simple rule: New things can be tried out on the day a gift is received. But the very next day (short of travel time or catastrophe) is a day for giving thanks. No new outfit gets worn. No new video game gets played. No new book gets read or sled gets slid until a thank-you note goes into the mailbox. The not-so-simple rule is that it isn’t a chore. It’s an act of loving back the people who love us.

Good modeling and working together is the key. Kids take it in if our attitude is one of thoughtful pleasure. Kids take it in when we demonstrate that something is important enough for us to take time away from other things. Kids take it in when they see us write a note with care. By making an evening of thanks part of the family annual holiday tradition, it will become as matter-of-fact as other rituals.

Helpful hints:

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    Help your children keep track of what they receive and from whom so no one is forgotten when it’s time to write notes.

  • Set aside a time when you can all work on this together.
  • Talk with the kids about what they might want to say. You might even make a model note for young kids. Stress that each note has to have something personal in it that lets the receiver know the note is especially for them.
  • Don’t strive for perfection. This is an exercise of the heart, not a grammar lesson. Notes should be reasonably neat but this is not the time to criticize spelling.
  • Notes don’t have to be “notes.” Young kids can make a picture of themselves with the gift. Older kids can make a card. Computer e-cards may be fine for some people but viewed as too impersonal by others. Help your kids decide who will appreciate e-mail and who on the list really does need a handwritten note to feel thanked.
  • Make sure that addresses are handy. Look up zip codes together. Put on stamps. Young kids love the ritual of putting their work in the mailbox.
  • Acknowledge the effort. Yes, thank your kids for writing thank-yous. Let them know how much the recipients will enjoy their notes.

And — one more thing — make sure you write a thoughtful thank-you note for gifts you received from your children (and encourage adult relatives to do the same). Slip them under their pillows. Better yet, mail them. Children who receive such notes learn from experience how nice it feels to be verbally hugged for thoughtfulness.

In Defense of Thank-You Notes

Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D.

Marie Hartwell-WalkerDr. Marie Hartwell-Walker is licensed as both a psychologist and marriage and family counselor. She specializes in couples and family therapy and parent education. She writes regularly for Psych Central as well as Psych Central's Ask the Therapist feature. She is author of the insightful parenting e-book, Tending the Family Heart.

Check out her book, Unlocking the Secrets of Self-Esteem.

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, M. (2018). In Defense of Thank-You Notes. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 4, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Oct 2018 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Oct 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.