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Should kids write thank-you cards for holiday gifts?

Sasha Emmons and Chad Sapieha | posted Thursday, Dec 10th, 2015

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“Yes”
Sasha Emmons, Mom of two

Ah, the holidays. A time of peace on Earth, good will toward men…and total, unmitigated greed. I love hanging with family and having an excuse to eat cookies, but I could do without the raging case of the gimmes my kids, Chloe, 10, and Julian, 6, come down with every single year, as toy catalogues and TV ads convince them the big guy in red’s there to shower them with whatever their hearts desire. And that’s just the Santa gifts. As the only little kids on my husband’s side of the family, by Christmas morning they’re drowning in packages from relatives.

The antidote to all this stuff-itis is to make them write thank-you notes. Shopping for, wrapping and delivering a present requires effort, and I think it should be acknowledged with a little effort in return. My family is spread across the US, and in some cases this gift and note exchange is the kids’ only tangible touch point with far-flung relatives. I know it’s a bit schoolmarmish of me to cling to this old-fashioned custom, but in this screen-centric world, where it’s hard to get kids to look up long enough to even have a conversation, I worry about my kids losing old-school manners. And recognizing thoughtfulness never goes out of style.

Now before you let years of unwritten thank-you notes haunt you, know that I’m right there with you. We start strong, ticking names off the list and signing adorably scrawly signatures. But a few notes in, the kids and I start to butt heads. They hate sitting and thinking of what to say, and I hate sitting and making them do it. Before long, we’ve lost the list of who gave what, and too much time has passed for my feeble mom brain to piece it back together. (To anyone reading this who’s owed a thank-you note, I want you to know we loved the gift and appreciate you thinking of us.)

So should kids write thank-you notes? Yes. Do mine? A few make it into the post and hopefully make someone’s day. And this year I’ll be asking Santa to give me and them the perseverance to finish them all.

“No”
Chad Sapieha, Dad of one

My wife, Kristy, is a wonderful woman with boundless social grace and the best of intentions. So it came as no surprise when she decided a few years ago that our daughter, then around four or five, ought to send a thank-you card for every Christmas gift she received. Kristy purchased multiple packages of cute cards upon which our little girl was to scrawl her name and whatever semblance of gratefulness she might manage.

This proved challenging. We have a ton of friends and family, so our daughter receives a lot of gifts. Writing notes of thanks for all of them is time-consuming. Getting our daughter to do it required multiple sessions over several days, each one an exercise in frustration.

It hasn’t gotten any easier. Turns out fourth graders have as little interest in sitting down for an hour to write polite missives as kindergartners do. Go figure.

But Kristy refuses to give up. Each year she buys more cards. And each spring, I reach to the bottom of our overflowing stationary basket, grab the oldest cards and dump them into the recycling bin. It’s like tossing last week’s produce to make room for the new: expensive and wasteful.

Look, thank-you cards are wonderful in principle. They teach kids to express gratitude and they help improve their penmanship. But they’re just not practical. Why not just text the gift giver a picture of your kid opening the present? Better still, Skype or FaceTime the moment. These alternatives are quicker, cheaper and more memorable.

The simple truth is that you can’t dictate gratitude. When you receive a thank-you card from a kid, you have no idea if he was actually grateful. Reading the note, you probably don’t think, What a thoughtful and considerate child! You think, What thoughtful and considerate parents.

I’m not into these social shenanigans. I’d rather spend the time wasted on thank-you cards building a Boxing Day snowman with my daughter.

A version of this article appeared in our December 2015 issue with the headline “Should kids write thank-you cards for holiday gifts?” p. 104.

Read more:
How to raise an appreciative child>
Teach your kids to appear grateful (even if they aren’t)>
How to avoid spoiling kids at Christmas>

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