Do children of today need be taught to show more appreciation?

As self-help gurus extol the virtues of being grateful as adults, Arlene Harris says children need to be taught to show appreciation and ’thank you’ notes are a good place to start.

All over the country children reaped the rewards of the festive season. Some got a sack-load of gifts from Santa, while others were happy with a more modest haul.

But most will also have received presents from family and friends. Granted not all of these gifts were on their wish list, but someone took the time to choose something, wrap it up (or pop it in a card) and deliver to said children.

So far so good — but this process often comes a-cropper after the lucky recipients have ripped off the wrapping paper (or envelope), stashed the goods (or discarded them in disgust), and conveniently forgotten about the gift-giver.

I am a stickler for sending ‘thank-you’ cards. When my three boys were young, they made cards for everyone who sent them something —this has been replaced with shop-bought notelets as they have grown older — but I have always ensured that everyone who gifted them received the gratitude they deserve.

Of course, they have often grumbled about the effort involved, but I assured them that sending a ‘thank you’ note is just basic manners. It doesn’t matter how ‘perfect’ the gift was, the most important thing to acknowledge is the fact that someone took the time and effort to find it for them.

Unfortunately it seems this common courtesy is beginning to die out as according to research by gift website, 75% of people no longer expect a handwritten ‘thank you’ note and most would be happy with an email, text message or even a Facebook post.

But etiquette expert Tina Koumarianos says the thank-you card is a tradition that should be upheld.

“One of the very first things we should teach our children is good manners and high on that list is the ‘thank you’ card for a gift received,” she says.

“It’s human nature to feel unappreciated if we don’t receive an acknowledgement after taking the time and trouble to choose, wrap, and deliver the gift which all too often is simply grabbed with a quick ‘thanks’ in return.”

‘Thank you’ cards, Koumarianos believes, should be personalised to make the giver feel good and to instil manners in the receiving child.

“When writing, it’s important for the child to mention the particular gift they received so the donor knows it’s not just a mass-produced letter,” she advises. “Because gifts may diminish as time goes by if the donor feels they are being taken for granted.

“Just about everyone will tell you that it’s a joy to receive a ‘thank you’ note after giving a gift or doing a favour. It’s especially nice to hold and feel a written card in this age of everything being online, as there is nothing like a handwritten note with the writer’s unique handwriting, no matter how squiggly it is. Good manners learned early last a lifetime — they are your best accessories.”

Child psychologist, Peadar Maxwell says not only are ‘thank you’ cards the polite thing to do, but they also benefit the children who write them.

“As a psychologist, I am keenly interested in social skills and building relationships and what a great skill it is to know when to say ‘Thank You’,” he says.

“A child is affected by being taught to say thank you and by taking the step of putting it on paper. They are learning an important skill which can be used later in life, and they also learn to reflect on the effort someone has gone to for them, which helps to reaffirm gratitude and contentment.

“Also, the act of writing a ‘thank you’ could help a child to realise what someone has done for them or given to them. There is something in the physical act of writing ‘thank you’ or drawing a picture which is richer than just saying the words.”

Maxwell, a senior psychologist for the HSE, has some advice for parents whose children are reluctant to put pen to paper:

  • Let them know that the receiver of their card may place it on the mantelpiece or fridge to admire.
  • Make the process of making/writing the card fun and easy, and if a child has literacy difficulties, help a bit more or have them draw their thank you.
  • Or you can have some simple inexpensive note cards available to make it quick and easy.
  • If your child is enthusiastic, encourage them to make a card from a sheet of paper.
  • Try to make it normal and regular that a ‘thank you’ is sent fairly promptly after a gift is received.
  • Encourage the relative or friend to mention the delight of receiving the ‘thank you’ or pass on any positive comments you receive about the note.

“‘Thank you’ notes are not just about saying thank you, they are also a good way to acknowledge that a gift was received safely or that a favour was appreciated,” adds Maxwell. “

“Ultimately it is plain rude to not let someone know that you received a gift safely and to leave people wondering if it got to you or if their favour is left unacknowledged.”


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