The late legendary advice columnist Ann Landers once said that the majority of the letters she received fell into two categories — agony from a writer whose spouse was having an affair or sadness from a grandparent who never received thank-you notes from grandchildren.

Alas, the art of writing thank-you notes does seem to have decreased in today’s culture. And yet this is an important discipline we need to practice and we need to teach our kids. Why? It is a character trait. Thank-you notes teach us to honor and appreciate others. They serve to keep us from taking others for granted. They help to protect our kids from an ever-encroaching sense of entitlement. Our culture cries out, “Please me, satisfy me, make me happy.” Thank-you notes are one tiny discipline to train us in appreciating others. And the art of appreciation will go a long way in marriage.

We live in the Washington, D.C. area. Folks here are incredibly busy and often self-focused. Yet one thing I’ve noticed; they write thank-you notes for interviews, for luncheons, for a favor done, for a gift received. From the most well-known to the least noticed, one often receives a note. It’s expected. And it’s a good thing. Our church has an intern program for post-college grads. Each year when our interns arrive, my husband gives every one of them a gift of personalized cards and explains to them the importance of writing thank-you notes. Some have grown up writing them while others have never written a single one. But they need to learn. It’s a character trait.

Do we like to write thank-you notes? Not usually. Do our kids? No. But it’s our job as parents to train them to write them anyway. Provide the stationery. Set a deadline by which all thank-you notes must be written, or privileges (the car, TV, computer, etc.) will be withheld until they are finished. And then follow through. Yes, your kids will complain. That’s their job! But do it anyway. You are training them in thoughtfulness and respect — two crucial character traits they will need for life.

So you haven’t finished your Christmas thank-you notes? I hadn’t either — until a few minutes ago! However there is good news; it’s never too late to do what is right.