I’m gearing up to reminded my children to write thank you notes for their gifts as soon as the holiday madness is over. In fact, it turns out that National Letter Writing Week is in early January, so the timing is perfect.

My three kids have very different approaches to writing thank you letters. My daughter actually enjoys the process. She makes her own cards featuring elaborate multi-color drawings, stickers, hearts, and glitter. She needs just a reminder or two, and then she sits down and writes all her thank you’s in quick succession, even finding envelopes and applying stamps without asking for help.

My oldest boy requires the most prodding, cajoling, and straight up haranguing — he’ll drag the task out out for weeks by making excuses, getting distracted, and finding other urgent pursuits. When he finally gets down to it, however, he writes heartfelt notes that the recipients treasure.

Outdated ritual or meaningful connection?

My other son has forceful opinions on a wide range of topics from Shakespeare (“His plots are great, but he’s held back by his use of language”), to the singer Adele (“People who don’t like her music are either deaf or stupid”). He considers thank you cards yet another tedious adult invention — along with homework, piano practice, summer camp, and domestic chores — to deprive kids of precious free time. “Thank you cards are an old fashioned ritual that no one cares about anymore,” he argues. Or, when he’s feeling more existential: “If I’m forced to write a thank you card, is that really an expression of gratitude?” But when he finally relents, he sits down and writes very short but very thoughtful notes.

I hated writing thank you letters as a kid, too, but I make my children write them anyway. Why? I think it’s important to acknowledge and express gratitude for gifts we receive. I love e-mail and texting and I don’t write as many letters as I’d like; still, I think that many emotions, including gratitude, sympathy, and love, are best expressed in words and on paper, which gives them clarity and shape, as well as weight and permanence. It may be a dying art, but I believe that letter writing still plays an important role in human discourse.

Letters from the heart

Like so many human interactions, writing thank you notes benefits the (letter) writer as much, if not more, than the recipient. Writing letters creates a genuine connection with another human being, which is always a good thing. On a more concrete note, here at GreatSchools we often emphasize the importance of getting your kids writing any way you can, because writing is such an essential learning tool. (Of course, receiving letters is nice, too: a friend told me recently that she’s saved every thank you card she’s ever received from her nieces and nephews).

How about you? Will you enforce this “old fashioned ritual” in your household? Why or why not?

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