The removal of cursive writing from many elementary school curriculums is a by-product of the rise of new technologies that emphasize computer and typing skills. Educators seek to prepare students for a successful future where typing skills have usurped penmanship. In college lecture halls, more students now take notes on laptops and tablet computers than with pens and notepads. Even responding to handwritten letters from grandparents in cursive is seen as no longer necessary as they, too, have learned how to use email, Facebook and Skype. But the decline of handwriting skills can be attributed in part to the decline in certain aspects of etiquette, particularly in writing thank-you notes.
Most of us were raised to write thank-you notes. We all have vivid (maybe painful) memories of parents hovering over us right after a birthday, or graduation, or some holiday, pushing us to write long tomes expressing gratitude in richly embroidered (and somewhat artificial) language. As children, we were lectured on the importance of writing these notes – but did anyone ever explain why it was so important?
Children can usually be engaged in a difficult task if someone explains to them the reason behind it. It’s no good simply stating ‘because you have to,’ or ‘because it’s polite.’ Children need to know that, firstly, gifts must be acknowledged; otherwise how will the giver know whether it was ever been received? And secondly, when someone has taken the time to pick out a gift and spend money on you, it deserves appreciation…and appreciation that is not expressed amounts to very little indeed. If your kids fail to send thank-you cards, they may well find that the gifts stop arriving (or at least become smaller and less elaborate).
But there’s more – much more – to thank-you notes than self-interest. Writing thank-you notes is not only good manners and the ‘polite thing to do,’ but also an important life lesson in gratitude and thankfulness. Getting children to write thank-you notes is a way of teaching them to think of others and express their appreciation – surely an important life lesson in many respects.
Thank-you notes don’t need to be elaborate, lengthy compositions. Sometimes something much simpler will do just as well, and in addition to making the task an easier sell to the child may resonate more with the gift-giver than an obviously forced one. A hand-drawn picture which includes a few lines of text or a photo of the child with the gift enclosed in a thank-you note both show a sincere appreciation of both the gift and the one who gave it.
Another way to encourage thank-you notes is to supply the child with their own stationary. These could be as fancy as personalized or monogrammed cards or off-the-shelf pieces with pre-printed name or initials. Making the note cards as an art project is another option that makes writing the cards less of a task and more of a fun activity.
While the inclination is to have the kids sit down and knock out all the notes at once, parents need to realize that many times this is a monumental task, especially for younger children, no matter what you might do to make it into a fun activity. Be patient – a good timeline is to devote some time every day to working on the thank-you notes, but only do a few a day. It might take longer to get them all done but avoiding any conflicts with the kids may be worth the delay.
Finally, children need examples to help guide them into being responsible, caring adults. Do you yourself write thank-you notes for gifts and favors you receive? Lead by example! If your children see you writing your own notes, they are much more likely to agree to write theirs, too. If you are working with children to write thank-you notes after a family gift-giving holiday like Hanukkah or Christmas, plan to sit down with them and write your thank-you notes along with them. They may look to you to help them draft their copy, and the event becomes a family activity versus just another chore.
Teaching children the importance of a timely thank-you note is teaching them to do the “right thing” – but allowing them some flexibility and creativity in creating the notes is teaching them “right” can also be “different.”