I had an aunt who would always call after Christmas and ask if I’d gotten her gift. This was something I expected and dreaded every Christmas and birthday. I have to admit, it might have been February before I finished the last thank you note, but I did get them all done, every year, every time. I can’t begin to explain just how much I hated writing them. In fact, as a child I would pray that people didn’t send me gifts so I wouldn’t have to write them. To make it worse, we had the added competition of cousins who seem to write their “perfect” thank you notes seemingly moments after unwrapping the gift. We never beat them to the punch!
As an adult, I still dread writing them. I have a running dialogue in my head: “Too sappy,” “That doesn’t sound sincere,” “Not grateful enough!” It’s a personal struggle each and every time. Now, though, I write them the day after Christmas or my birthday so I can feel guilt free and express my thanks.
Lately, I’ve heard a lot of people question how important it is to write thank you notes. I’m a big proponent of this practice, even given my personal conflict. Here’s why: Every day through our 1-on-1 Coaching Service, we hear about the sense of entitlement children have. Developmentally, a sense of appreciation is tenuous at best. Depending on the child, this sense of gratitude can develop, at least temporarily, anywhere from age 4 to 24. It also has a tendency to appear and disappear according to the phase the child is going through.
So in many ways, thank you notes are one way of not only encouraging a sense of appreciation, but nurturing it. Rather than approaching it as an “obligation” (as it felt when I was growing up), have a conversation around the reason why people give gifts. Ask your child how it feels when he works very hard making a macaroni necklace and finally gets to give it to you? (Or buys you a gift with money she made from her part-time job, for that matter.) That excitement, that “I can’t wait to give this to you” feeling is why we write thank you notes.
So all kidding aside, to my aunt that always made sure we wrote her a thank you note, I am very grateful. There are many things we don’t necessarily like to do growing up, nor can we always understand the reasons why we do them at the time. But it is an opportunity to delve into family values, have a conversation, and begin to teach gratitude.