Privilege Blog

Should Your Kids Really Send Thank You Notes?

Crane notecards. For when I run out of the dragonflies I’m using now.

I have a confession to make. Despite my efforts – sleepless nights, Legos embedded in the soles of my feet, the times I reminded myself to say yes instead of no – in one significant way I failed as a mother. (Probably more than one, but this is all I’m ready to confess.)

I never made my kids write thank you notes.

Why? Because I hated doing it myself. Because my mother was a good mother, and she made me write what seems like hundreds.

There was a formula. First you had to say, “Thank you so much.” Then you had to actually refer to something specific that you liked about the present. Then you had to say “Thank you,” AGAIN. I just hated it. Sort of like filling out customs forms as you sit on an airplane about to land. Sheer tedium.

So, while my kids always said thank you to anyone in the room, and always called those far away, no notes were written. I only regret what I do not do. I regret this.

Thank goodness my sisters taught their kids well, holding up the High WASP side. Thank goodness some other mothers have also done their jobs. Here’s how I know.

This notes is from a young woman just turned 30. She invited me to her birthday party and I bought a present. A lovely photo on the card, blank interior, hand-written. My mother would approve. Said young woman thanked me, told me why she liked my present, and thanked me again. I say, good job, young woman’s mom. Hats off.

Then these. From Buckeroomama’s kids. She won our NaraCamicie shirt giveaway. Since she lives in Hong Kong I shipped the shirt myself. Since I knew she had adorable little kids I added a couple of sticker sheets. Voila, almost by return post, came these notes. They now occupy a place of honor next to photos of two other cute kids I know, and a little painting done by one of said cute kids.

Josh, her five year old son, made me this purple card. He might be five and half by now. Auntie is a term of inclusion. I am quite honored.

And this from Zoe. Her three year old.

Josh, and Zoe, thank you so much for your notes. They are beautiful and I like them. Tell your mama I like her pictures too.

One more thing? My daughter writes thank you notes. Now. She even uses gold-rimmed Crane stationery. Daughters can compensate for maternal weakness. I suspect my son will join her soon in thank-you-noting, having stepped down from his former reign as “The God of Mute.” He’ll probably use email. That’s OK. I’m glad when my kids figure something out that I wasn’t able to teach them, even when they come up with a slightly different answer than I might have expected. To everyone who ever gave my children a present, this is my thank you note. I hope “Better late then never” applies.

52 Responses

  1. Wonderful post. I learned to write thank you notes the very same way you did! I enjoy it now (if I can find the time). I'm not so good with making les petites write theirs but will strive to do better in future(summer projects, anyone?). Love the bee cards!

  2. Such a lovely vignette of the cards and photos.
    I have a serious Smythson addiction and this reminds me that I have to write off a thank you note this week otherwise it will be too too tardy!

  3. LPC, I think one of the most important jobs a mother can do, is to teach her children to appreciate others and their kindness, and of course to know how to express that appreciation which, by the sounds of it, is exactly what you have done. No failure here my friend, it was probably a little more of a trial to actually get them on the phone to say thank you, I know it would be for me, my children run away from the phone as if it was a visit to the dentist! The written thank you is preferred by some and lovely to send and receive but I don't think it should outshine the spoken thank you, whether face to face or over the phone. I have cherished those 'over the phone' thank you's from my little friends just as much as the ones I have received through the mail. In my eyes, it is the genuine thank you that is most important, the form of delivery is secondary (and this is coming from an etiquette trainer for children). :)

  4. Ha! My mother used the same thank you note formula and I hated writing them, too.

    I made my stepson send thank yous. We'd take a picture of him and use a photo card, so the relatives and friends also got an updated photo every year. I'm sure he no longer sends them, now that he's a grown-up. ~sigh~

    Those two kids are beyond adorable.

  5. I confess I've always made them write thank you notes, altho I know it's mostly a lost art. Now I just bug them for special gifts or people I know will be insulted. I'm always so touched when I receive a thank you note. I love your examples. They can really be a bright spot in a person's day, can't they?

  6. I don't have children, so I have only my own thank you note failures to regret. My nephews seem well trained in the art of the e-thank you, and that is fine. I have a few people in my circle who will clearly prefer a written note, and I try to make sure those happen. For everyone else, I'm transitioning to e-thank you's myself. But then what to do about all the lovely Crane's products?????

  7. I answered the headline with an emphatic "yes". A high school graduation present in this family is a box of notes with the graduate's name on them. No engraving die, alas. My girl and her uni friend visited 2 weekends ago and were gifted some tickets. I sent emails to remind the girls to send notes to the giver. You chose a different way to teach your children to say thank you and as long as their appreciation is voiced, you did your maternal duty.


  8. LPC: I think that your post is not about thank you cards. And I think that your behavior is understandable. We parents try to protect our children from having to suffer about things we, as children, suffered. Somewhere in my posts, I told that I did not want to have a piano in the house, because I did not want my daughters to go through the hell of piano lessons, I did. My mother forced me to take those lessons, and I hated it. I think that not forcing your children to write those cards, equals to me not forcing my kids to play the piano. Only later did I learn, that they would have wished to play the piano. Well, now we have the piano and it is played every now and then. And all those years I thought I was doing my children a favor. You may forgive yourself. I forgave myself too.

  9. How lovely! I was taught to write thank you notes as well, and have become neglectful in doing so in recent years. But that pretty stationary might inspire me…

  10. My mom made us write thank-you notes. She stopped sending presents to her godchild because she never got a thank you.

    I still write them and get a bit insulted if I go through the trouble of buying and mailing something only to get no response. I have yielded and will take an email thank you, but it is so nice to get a proper letter in the mail.

  11. Yep, thank you notes were part of my upbringing as well. It's almost a dying art in some places, which is sad, since little notecards are so much fun to buy!

  12. i love to write thank-yous and i enjoy receiving them. if my son receives a gift from a family member or friend, or even gets treated to the movie theatre with grandpa, or a dinner date with grandma, he sends a thank you note. it's something i did as a child, probably why i love stationary and shopping for it so much, and would like him to continue into adulthood. my husband writes thank-you notes to every business person he meets for the first time when out in the field. it sets him apart from everyone else. take care.

  13. I've always loved getting thank you notes, who doesn't? Definitely we should all be doing more handwriting of good manners. Great post.

  14. Not being a natural writer where every word is painful for me to put on paper I still dread writing thank you notes and admittedly I wasn't very good at getting my children to write them.

  15. What serendipity! I read this post, then closed it because I have no children to have taught the art of writing thank you notes. Within 30 seconds, an email arrived, full of genuine and sweet thanks for his birthday and graduation gifts from a dear 18-year old young man.

    His email was addressed to Auntie Louise and Uncle Sean. Terms of inclusion. Terms of endearment. Terms of oh-my-heart-just-melted. I remember when he made cards that looked just like the ones from Josh and Zoe. He's off to Berkeley in the fall, and I'm just proud as punch.

  16. We brought back some stuffed animals for our little neighbor boys from a trip one Christmas. They responded by drawing the animals for us (they couldn't write yet). Years later I still have the thank-you drawings up on my refrigerator door. They are sweet boys.

    My mother harps on my sister to get the girls to write notes, but my sister is too beleaguered to sit down with them. Fortunately, my older niece seems to have started to do so spontaneously. It might have a little to do with the grown-up stationery box (with stamps and pens in different colors) that I sent her a couple birthdays ago.

    I could never get into emailing thank-yous. I'm sure it's fine by now, but it just seems so off-the-cuff, still. Sitting down with pen and paper seems more considered and deliberate, even if the note inside is bread-and-butter.

  17. If Miss Janey had had children, she's sure she would have failed and disappointed them in many ways. But she would have insisted they write thank you notes, as Mama Janey taught Miss J to do back in the day.

    Miss J loves this topic…

  18. Tessa – Thinking back, I believe that the notes to have to be an every time thing, but at least now and again, really pull out the stops and send something made and cared about.

    Tabitha – Thank you.

    Lily – I cannot tell you how much better you have made me feel. An expert is the best form of absolution.

    Maureen – Yes. Exactly. A bright spot.

    DocP – Companies are starting to offer virtual letters – emails that offer animated envelopes etc….Crane's, are you listening?

  19. Patsy – Ha! Maybe it's a Cape Cod thing?

    Stacy – Thank you for your kind words, even from one who votes yes.

    Metscan – Thank you. Forgiveness is the best part of aging.

    Deja – I think you'd have to go arty:). But I do find having notecards helps me because they are short by default.

    Gold digger – I like to be thanked too – although I am OK with emails.

  20. Shelly – I love to buy new cards:).

    Kiki – Wow, you guys are really good at this!

    Some like it Vintage – Thank you.

    Belle – If you want to send them, you could get some preprinted with a graphic of one of your jewels and the words, Thank You. You could get really corny and write You're A Gem. Or not. Ha.

    Louise – What a wonderful coincidence. Congrats on your friend going to Cal.

  21. I like to write them. All my sisters and Mum write them too, in fact, if I give my 4 year old niece a present, I get a thankyou note on her behalf from my sister.

    I don't find it onerous or difficult- I keep stationary and stamps on hand. It takes about a minute and really makes people happy.

    It annoys me when people don't write them on receipt of wedding gifts.

  22. I, too, was taught to write thank you notes, mostly to my formidable Grand Dame paternal grandmother, who frowned on hugs and lisped "Thank yous" (she was not what you would call an affectionate person). I never wrote one single thank you note to Proper Southern Lady maternal grandmother, who preferred hugs, kisses and "thank you!" in person. I found it onerous, too.

    My own children have been taught to thank the giver in person, if at all possible, call the giver on the phone if it's not, and write a thank you note as well if it is a special occasion/very expensive gift.

  23. I do my best to have my children write thank-you notes. But here's an (interesting?) tangent: I was taught that the first sentence should be about the gift, as in, "I was delighted to receive fom you a Cape Cod bracelet," and the second should be the "thank-you statement," as in "Thank you so much for thinking of me."

    This breakdown may seem utterly too petty, but I'm wondering whether your gentle readers learned anything regarding the "proper" (read with a wink) order of sentences.

  24. I love to write notes, including thank you notes. As much as I love choosing just the right stationery, and the feel of the pen gliding over the soft vellum of quality paper, sadly I don't have addresses for everyone in this day of an e-world. (I almost said digital world but I think that we're past that now?) Anyway, I found Paperless Post at and have fallen in love with it. They just recently added custom e-stationery and I cannot wait to try it out. And for the record, I am not affiliated in any way with the site, only a big fan.

    Happy e-writing!

  25. I am a huge fan of the thank you note. When I was a child going on sleepovers I always packed a notecard in my suitcase to leave my thank you note on my hostesses pillow when I left. I always got invited back :)

  26. I love thank you notes. Writing and receiving. Although it's a special talent to be able to write one that doesn't come across as fulfilling an obligation.

  27. Staircase Witch – How sweet, pictures of the stuffed animals. What a good idea.

    Miss J – We all do, in many ways:).

    FF – I bet you write a wonderful thank you note.

    Jan – Aw, Proper Southern Lady sounds wonderful.

    Miss Cavendish – Interesting. I wonder?

  28. BethAnn – Paperless Post is a great idea. I've been sure this would happen for close to a year.

    Summer – Now THAT was a thank you note strategy.

    Julia – Yes.

  29. Yes, please write thank you notes. I wonder why some people don't write them – instead I wonder if they received the gifts, even. Then they say, yes they did. If I don't ask if they received the gifts, they don't ever tell me if they did…… But I love writing thank you notes. As an adult I love to find variations on how to write them and what to say…. If I had kids I would teach them too, and make it fun –

  30. My Mom is the thank you note queen. Sadly, I am not. HA! I need to work on that. I even have a box of Crane's in my nightstand. Pitiful!

  31. I could not agree more! Great post! Glad I found you and your wonderful advice/blog so I could follow you! :-)
    Have a Wonderful week!

  32. We make our children write thank-you notes. As much as possible, we have made them write them before they could play with/wear/listen to whatever the gift might be. We've also coerced them to write them for outings and overnights. I hope they're all still writing them once they're out of the nest. I have at least one aunt who will be sure to let me know if they're not!

  33. Loved this post. What beautiful cards from the children of your friend, and what a lovely way you found to display them. My mom taught me to write Thank You notes, and I love it. I love: beautiful paper, varied pens, ink, penmanship, communication, conveying a thought, anticipating the pleasure I will bring. It is an intellectual and sensual joy to send Thank You you notes. And, it is one of the meditative tasks with a beginning, middle, and end. All things considered, the joy of my recipients is paramount. I know what joy I get when I receive a Thank You, well written and well meant, and I am happy to give that back out into the world.

  34. Those were wonderful notes from the kids. With pictures and everything!
    And it's interesting to read everyone else's stories. I am glad to hear that most people don't mind emails or phone calls. I'm better at those!

    I have found that I am much better at thank you notes as an "adult" than I was when I was little… and when I was younger Mom would remind me at least once a day until she got frustrated and gave up. In the later years of my time under my parents' tutelage, when she finally started saying, "I don't care what you do, you are the one being reflected now. Just please make sure your grandparents get one, it would make them so happy", I was much more likely to take extra special care and get the grandparent cards sent out, even if none of the other ones made it. Now, I always start with the grandparent notes and then try hard to make it through the rest. Mostly I succeed and it makes my mother happy when I tell her. I still kind of expect praise for things like that; luckily, she complies.

  35. I love this post (even if the children's cards hadn't been featured). :) This is a topic that is very close to my heart. I want the children to learn to write thank you notes not only because proper etiquette dictates that they do so, but more because I want them to learn thankfulness. In all its forms.

    I have to apologize for the misspellings and the erasures in the card (esp. Josh's), but I'd wanted the card to be as authentic as could be. So that you know that Josh did it all by himself and that the words (and ideas for the card decoration) came from him. While I was tempted to ask him to do another one, I felt that you would understand and appreciate his efforts. :) Thank you for the place of honor you have given to their cards. Both Josh and Zoe were tickled to see their cards next to "that beautiful painting." (Josh's words). Moi aussi. :)

  36. YOu see why? Becasue you *loved* getting those notes. Because they strengthen the bond between giver and receiver. Because gratitude is uplifting. Sounds like you rebelled against the formulaic nature, not against expressing thanks. Why not let kids send a goofy photo taken by their computer-camera as a note, with a few words on the back.

    Gestures count, L. But you know that!

  37. If I fail to write a thank-you note, the power of my mother's disapproval would knock me over. And then she'd get on a plane out here and I'd REALLY be in for it…

  38. So wait. Is the end conclusion that one should or should NOT teach their kids?

    You were taught, and you loath. Your daughter was NOT taught, but has figured it out.

    That is how it happened with me. I was not forced, but I am BIG with the notes.

    Hm. Maybe it is a nature thing either way.;)

  39. Our three adult daughters (ages 37 and twins 35) all do an excellent job of writing thank you notes. I know this because I have received comments from the recipients about the thank you
    notes that have been written. I couldn't say that I was the outstanding example to follow in this regard.

  40. My own mother's insistence on "thankful" notes remained consistent (although my compliance did not) throughout my childhood and adolescence. Thank you notes were dreaded. Yet I am so appreciative to have rigorously trudged through that education. In the early years "thank you for the books" was sufficient. By the end my mother tried to cultivate that rare skill of communicating gratitude without relying on the clich√© of "Thank you for…"

    Now I find letter composition so much easier than phone conversations. As far as I'm concerned, my mother deserves all the credit; she certainly didn't deserve all those rebellious meltdowns along the way.

  41. I laughed so hard at this post! I remember after our wedding, writing over 400 of these little jeweled formulas. I made my husband help and clearly his mother had not taught him how to write a proper TY note. After two or three "Dude, thanks so much for the ___. I like it." I made him stop and copy from mine. He was in charge of thanking everyone for money. So everyone, regardless of what we used the cash for, got the exact same message from my husband: "Thank you so much for your generous gift. We enjoyed a nice bottle of wine at a picnic in Calistoga Springs. Thank you so much for a gift that made our honeymoon memorable." Had we actually bought that much wine, we would still be drinking it 10 years later!

  42. Miss Manners says that anyone who needs a note that already says 'Thank You' on it is just lazy. So, you know, I only own blank cards. :)

  43. Yes, I grew up writing thank you notes and still do. And I taught my kids to write them and they still do. In fact, my daughter was writing hers for her graduation gifts earlier tonight. I know when I send a gift, if I don't hear from the receiver I wonder if they ever got it. Of course, if they called and said thank you – I'd know … a lot of people just don't acknowledge gifts anymore and I think it's too bad.

  44. Thank You Notes….having to write them…it's THE reason Junior Leaguers eschew group sex.



  45. Thank you notes and giving up your seat for the elderly or infirm – non negotiable in our household. Our thank you note formula always includes mention of the gift, but more importantly thanks for taking the time to think of me.

    Those two children are gorgeous – I want them!

  46. I feel so bad that I have not been keeping up with the Thank You note tradition. I think my mom gave up on me and secretly sends notes on my behalf sometimes :( But I will definitely be sending Thank You notes going forward. Starting with this one:

    Dear Lisa
    Thank you so much for reminding me that a simple Thank You can make all the difference.
    I really appreciate it.

  47. Lovely post, thank you for sharing your thoughts. I enjoy writing thank you notes, but I find the key for me is to always have stationery and stamps on hand. If I don't have the supplies readily available in the house, I never seem to remember to pick up cards in time to actually send the note in a socially reasonable time frame. In addition to the Crane and Smythson standbys, I've started to purchase letterpress cards from etsy. I've found some very creative cards there, which I think makes the prospect of writing a note even more delightful.

  48. Loved everything about your post…. but my favorite was about your son's step down from the God of Mute…. and how old was/is he? Like you, my daughter writes beautiful notes…. my son….eeeesh!!
    I am new to your blog, so just learning about you and enjoying it!

  49. My mother always wanted me to write thank you notes, particularily "bread & butter" notes, but more as a chore or some sort of punishment. I did encourage my children to write notes and they do! Truthfully, my daughter more than my son, but it is more important to me that they are heartfelt.

  50. Aww, see, I love writing Thank You notes! They are a favorite thing of mine!! But, to each High WASP their own, natch.

  51. I am a huge proponent of Thank You notes. Suprisingly, it was my father who wouldn't let us cash checks (when monitary gifts were bestowed) or use or gifts till they were written and mailed. Today, it's one of the greatest things he's taught me as receipts are always surprised by the gesture when really more people should be writing notes across the board. Oh and emails don't count. Write it.

  52. Miss Cavendish – I was taught exactly the same way: one doesn't say "thank you for the X," it's considered too obvious and too greedy, somehow. I believe the "thank you for thinking of me" respects the thought put behind the gift (one assumes there is some) and can refer to a gift of any size in thought/generosity.

    I do not think it a small distinction at all.

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