Why Thank-you Notes Matter

I experienced two small events in the past couple of weeks that made me think about the importance of thank-you notes. They’re small packages of cheer and goodwill that not only lift the spirits of the receiver, but give the writer a little burst of happiness as well.

The first incident happened just before Christmas. I was at the park walking my dog, and I saw a friend pushing her two boys on the swings. The older one is 5 years old, so he was proudly showing me how he had learned to “pump” by himself and then jump out of the moving swing. I asked him what he was going to get for Christmas, and he told me.

Then his mom asked me if I knew of anything she could do with him that would help him see that other children aren’t as privileged as he is. I’m not a child development expert, but I’m not sure that a 5-year-old would really “get” the big picture of poverty by actually seeing kids get toys that might not otherwise get them. I know that his parents are generous, kind people, so he sees that example from them every day. The mom said they always get an angel off of the angel tree, and I’m sure they talk about giving to those less fortunate.

How does this story relate to thank-you notes? First, small, age-appropriate acts of kindness matter more to a child than big, adult concepts that they may not be able to relate to. For a very young child, a thank-you drawing sent to Grandma for a Christmas gift makes sense to him and can be an important part of raising a caring child.

This little boy told me that his kindergarten teacher taught him to swing and to snap his fingers. A thank-you drawing to his teacher would be a great way to begin the conversation about gratitude and helpfulness. Talking about being kind to friends and pets or neighbors, while modeling kind and grateful behavior is another way to guide young children to be caring adults. Small things matter to small children, and they’re watching what we do and how we talk about others.

I understand the concerns of this mom, but at her son’s age, he doesn’t need to be introduced to a homeless person to begin to understand how to be a caring person. I know he’s already learning it at home because his parents are caring people.

The other little incident that happened relates to my daughter who graduated from college in May. While she was home over Christmas, she asked if she should give a family friend a thank-you note for a graduation present since it was so many months overdue. She had written the note in May and had been carrying it around in her purse all these months – it even survived a move to a new apartment.

I told her it was never too late to say thank-you to someone. So she pulled the note out of her purse so I could give it to our friend. The envelope was dirty and the edges were slightly tattered. I left the note in the original envelope so the receiver could see that at least she intended to send it months ago. It was a weight off my daughter’s mind that the note finally reached its destination, and I was glad that she felt guilty about never sending that note of appreciation. When my children were growing up, I tried to make sure they wrote thank-you notes, and they continue writing them now that they’re adults.

And, it goes both ways. Kids are thrilled to get a note in the mail from parents and grandparents. It takes such a small amount of time, but the payoff is big. We can all use a little reminder that someone out there cares about us and recognizes what we do. So, as you are putting away the Christmas decorations, and your kids are playing with their toys, don’t forget to take a few moments to send out a few lines of holiday cheer.

Categories: Editor’s Blog