I have recently received a number of thank-you notes, and they made my day. They are almost a lost art, but receiving these has reactivated my desire to let people know when I am thankful.
Teaching our children to express their own gratitude now will help them when they are older. It's an easy and inexpensive way to teach them to think about what they have to be thankful for.
Start out by writing family thank-yous.
Go to the dollar store
You'll want to go gung-ho on this, so stock up on nice little packets of thank-you notes. I've gotten really lovely ones at the dollar store, yard sales and thrift shops.
Place them in a nice wicker basket or pottery bowl somewhere prominent in your home. This allows everyone to see them and keeps them thinking about what they are thankful for.
As a family, at dinner or any other gathering, discuss who you are thankful for. Mention thank-you notes that you have received, and how they made you feel. Thank-you cards aren't just for birthday or wedding gifts. They will brighten the day of anyone who has done something you appreciate. Think about clergy, teachers, the mailman, the grocery store clerk, the librarian who checks out your books, the guy who fixed the brakes on your car. Try to meet weekly, and have someone write a list.
Share the fun
Rotate the scribe who writes out the card so that everyone gets practice. One person each week writes out the cards and sees to it that everyone signs it. Include toddlers and their scribbles.
Let the children know that the thank you should be heartfelt, but doesn't need to be a dissertation. A simple thank you should mention exactly what it is for - gift, sermon, smile, thoughtfulness, funny joke - and how it made you feel. That is enough. That way they won't get overwhelmed at what to write.
Cards can be mailed, or hand delivered. That part isn't critical, and family budget should determine what you can do. Let children take turns on hand-delivered thank-yous so they get an opportunity to see the expressions of joy on the receiver's face.
Once the habit is developed, encourage family members to write out their own thank-you cards and send them on their own. If children are too young, help them by doing the writing and having them sign or scribble. Allow them to make their own cards by providing a thank-you basket of crayons, markers and colorful papers.
In the event of celebratory gifts - birthday, graduation, anniversary, wedding, shower or other occasions - urge the receiver to get thank-you notes out in a timely manner. Emily Post says 3 months for wedding gifts. I think getting them out within 2 weeks is a good rule of thumb. Otherwise, the kindness can be forgotten. However, if time gets away, don't allow that to be an excuse not to send them. Better late than never.
Don't drop the ball
As parents, developing this habit will take work on your part. Keep the practice going with fun encouragement and never with guilt. Once the family has done this for a few months, the habit will likely be picked up by the children, and they will carry on the tradition.
Help revive this age-old practice and watch the change in your children's attitudes. They will learn to see things to be thankful for on their own, and that is one of the best gifts you can give them. There is so much negative in the world, learning to find things to be grateful for will brighten it up.