After starting a family, I knew that I wanted our kids to be involved in both gift-giving as well as thank you note writing. I didn't want them to be just passive receivers of gifts and wanted them to enjoy bringing joy to the people who loved them enough to give them a gift. In terms of gift-giving, this means that we spend time using our handicraft skills to plan and make gifts for grandparents and sometimes siblings.
But I also help my kids write and send thank you notes for each gift they receive for Christmas and their birthday. Here is how I slowly build my kids toward an independent habit of thank you note writing without making it too hard even for my very writing resistant boys!
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I let my kids see me writing my own thank you notes. I practice what I preach in this regard and it helps to let them see that I think thank you note writing is important. I always keep inexpensive thank you note cards or blank cards on hand for this purpose, either from the dollar store or Amazon (these are my current ones).
I also read any thank-you notes we receive out loud to all of the kids, even if they are specifically thanking me or my husband for something we have gifted or done to help someone. I want all our kids to see that it feels good to receive thanks and it is normal and good to let people know you appreciate them.
2 and under:
I write their thank you notes myself! I usually do this at the table or on the couch so if my toddlers are interested in what I am doing (or see their siblings doing) I can explain that I am thanking Nana or Pappy, etc, for a gift. But I don't worry if they don't notice or care.
I have my child sit with me while I write their thank you note in their voice. So I will write, "Thank you for the puzzle. Love, Harry" If they received a few separate presents from the same person, I will ask them what they specifically want to thank them for. I also get their input on whose thank you to write first and let them pick out a card to use. After I write out the note, I will have them put a sticker on the card for their "signature."
I teach my kids a simple script to use for writing thank you notes and I coach them to tell it to me while I write it down for them. It goes like this Dear______, Thank you for the __________ [and other gifts]. Love, ________. At this point, they are old enough to print their own name at the bottom of the note.
By the time my kids are school age, they are usually ready to write their own thank you notes. At first, I will write out a sample note for them on a piece of primary ruled paper. Then, they will copy it out word by word onto another primary ruled paper.
To make it easier for all involved, I have them write their thank you notes during our homeschool time when they would otherwise be practicing handwriting. So they don't have to do any more writing than normal. This is a big help for my boys who dislike writing in general.
As they get older, I will not write out the entire note to copy each time. Instead, I will give them a "master" copy and then just write out the names and the gifts for them to work on.
Admittedly, we've only just begun to reach this age. My oldest is 10 and my next son just turned 9. But after writing thank you notes for many years and learning cursive writing, even my writing-phobic kids can handle the process much more independently.
My older kids start writing notes on wide-ruled paper. They can choose print or cursive writing. At this point, they know our simple thank you note writing formula, although I do encourage them to add additional information to their note if they feel like it. I no longer need to write out the notes, but I do help them remember who to write to by giving them a list of gifts and gift-givers.
I use handwriting and lined paper templates found here and print from my computer as needed.
On occasion, a child really doesn't want to write thank you notes and it shows. If the handwriting is poor (according to their ability), I sometimes make them rewrite it, but usually not until the next day. I know the recipient loves them and doesn't really care what the handwriting looks like. However, I do remind them that the person they are writing to spent time, effort, and money choosing, wrapping, and getting a gift to them on time. And it was much more time and effort than it takes to write a simple note.
At the pace of writing one thank you note (or less!) per school day, it may take a few weeks after receiving a gift to get the note to the gift-giver. The important thing to me is that it gets to them, not that it gets there fast.
Our notes are basic and utilitarian but they accomplish my goals and they actually get done. My 6-year-old daughter likes drawing and making things fancy, so I encourage her to draw pictures and decorate her notes as much as she wants. This would be torturous for my 2 older sons so I keep extras optional!
I anticipate that my kids will continue to need less assistance with thank you note writing in the teen years....except for me to provide some accountability so it gets done. I know that their grandparents and other family members really do enjoy getting their special thank you letters. And it is a small and meaningful way for my children to practice gratitude and appreciate the nice things that they receive.