Basic Training Series- Etiquette for Children
Editorial by Lewena Bayer, The Civility Group Inc., MannersMatterUSA.com
Children and Thank You Cards
I remember my eighth birthday like it was yesterday. I had managed to convince my parents to let me invite my entire grade three class, boys and all. I spent an entire afternoon filling out invitations and then two solid weeks planning the party with my mother. We did a "big top" theme complete with carousel music, clowns and rented rides in the back yard. Many, many parties later, I still recall this birthday the best. I realize now however, that in spite of the balloons, tri-colored cotton candy and foot long hot dogs, and this party specifically sticks in by memory because it was the first time my mother insisted I write thank you cards. Twenty seven cards seemed like a mountain. I recall wishing that the "Barbie Camper" and the "Glow in the dark Strawberry Shortcake" doll had been gifted to someone else. You can bet my next party included only my closest grade four friends. I’ve never forgotten struggling over the words to express gratitude for duplicate gifts from people whose surname I didn’t even know. It was a valuable lesson to learn about gift giving and from that day forward, I don’t believe I’ve ever escaped the ritual of the thank you card. I’ve also never stopped appreciating the time and effort it takes to write and send one. As I grow older, I can state with ire and conviction, that there is a noticeable absence of this small but meaningful gesture these days. Most of my friends with young children will confirm this.
The guidelines for children and thank you cards have not really changed over the years. Parents may comment about the absence of same from time to time but many still don’t seem to encourage or expect them of their own children. If the decline in thank you card rituals reflects our negligence in teaching our children the most basic of courtesies, we as a civilized society may be in serious trouble. MANNERS MATTER!
For children under age five, parents should send a card on the child’s behalf if gifts are not opened under the eye of the giver or when a special grown-up sends a present. (Incidentally, although it has become commonplace, most parents are annoyed and most children very disappointed when gifts are not opened at the party.) Preschoolers should already know how to say please and thank you when they receive a gift and at age four or five, they could also be included in the thank you card process by one of the following means:
- Let the child pick out postcards with pre-written thank you messages, the child can write their initials and the parents can address and mail them.
- Many very young children already know how to use basic computer programs and there are many children’s programs which offer "card designs". Children can help produce them and parents can send. E-mail is not acceptable for personal thank you’s.
- Send one of your child’s drawings with a note attached as a thank you. This is especially meaningful for grandparents or relatives.
- Let the child sign the back of a birthday photo which shows them with the thank you card recipient’s gift in hand.
- Write a note and let the child attach "thank you" or "smile" stickers.
Nobody expects these cards to be perfect, but the receiver will feel appreciated and the child will eventually grasp the idea of expressing gratitude.
When a child reaches age eight or nine, writing thank you notes should already be a habit. Notes may be short, two or three sentences are fine. If a thank you letter is done on the computer, it should be personalized and signed by hand. If there are many gifts to be thankful for, parents might photocopy a basic letter and let the child fill in the blanks. There is no benefit to overwhelming the child with this task. Mistakes are fine and children may enjoy choosing their own cards or stationery. Thank you cards should be sent within a week of the party and although most children, unlike adults, may not get terribly excited about the absence of a thank you card -almost all will be terribly excited when they receive one in the mail.
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