Last Updated on March 20, 2018

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.

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  1. Thanks for the nudge! I got mine (and the kids') finished yesterday. 🙂

    1. This pair of grandparent’s participation in the family gathering didn’t happen b/c I (g-ma) usurped her dil’s mothering role one too many times. I demanded of the children that if they wanted to accept my many gifts as usual, I expected a thank you note, either by private msg or email. (To my mind lack of gratitude and acknowledgement has been an escalating issue and I knew these parents would not agree that notes are important.) I was confronted and informed on 12/23, that I had overstepped boundaries too many times and this one couldn’t be ignored, that. furthermore,they would have to help the younger children and they just didn’t have time. Of course, the confrontation then included my trespasses throughout their marriage. I was left feeling humiliated, worthless, unable to face the family, and thus excluded myself—and husband, from enjoying the day with them. We sent the gifts to their house, now 2 days after Christmas, our son realized that our absence was not due to his father’s illness, he wants us to be there when the children open their gifts. I am so very hurt, ashamed, and embarrassed over this issue, that I don’t know that I can face any of them…the older 3 are aware of the debacle.

  2. I have an ettiqute question on Christmas thank you notes. Do you send a thank you note to everyone who purchased a gift or only the people who were not present when your son or daughter opened the gift?

    1. Great question Heather. This is a bit of a gray area but I think it's always best to err on the side of a note. It teaches our kids (and reminds us) not to take folks or what they do for us for granted. Thanks so much for writing!

  3. Angela Miller says:

    Excellent!! I was told by someone recently that Thank You notes are not necessary. I insisted that my mother had raised me to show appreciation when someone did something nice for me or my family and that my children would be raised to write thank you notes as well. They are six and four and weren’t too pleased to have to stop their playtime to write these thank you notes, but I know that the people who receive them appreciate the acknowledgement of the gift.