When Paul and I got married, I had to write all the thank-you notes for our wedding gifts. Not only had he not been trained to write them, he hadn’t been trained WHY to write them. Purely aside from WANTING to tell the person who sent the gift how much you appreciated their kindness and generosity, the thank you note is a practical acknowledgment: it says “Yes, the gift successfully traveled from you to me.”
(photo of Dinosaur silhouette card from Simplicity Papers on Etsy)
In the case of children’s parties, it communicates to the parents who were not there that the gift went as planned: it wasn’t lost under the table, it was opened with knowledge of who it was from, etc. And it is such an excellent teaching opportunity for one’s own child on a subject it’s hard to remember to lecture about and practice: kindness should be appreciated, and the appreciation should be communicated, and here is the practical information about what to put between “Dear ____” and “Love, _____”. Also, you may not play with the present until you’ve written the note, so get on it.
(photo of Personalized Butterfly Tree notes from Two Pooch Paperie on Etsy)
For children who can’t yet write, I have them draw a picture and dictate a sentence or two. Or I write “Thank you for the ____” on a piece of paper and let them color and decorate it. Children who have recently learned to write may draw a picture and write just one sentence: “Thank you for the _____.” Slightly-more proficient children write two sentences: “Thank you for the _____. I really like it!” And so on.
(photo of Personalized robot notes from Posh Girl Boutique on Etsy)
At William’s age (he’s 10), I expect him to start with a non-thanking sentence (example: “I’m so glad you could come to my party last Saturday”). Then he does the classic “Thank you for the ____” sentence, followed by 1-2 sentences going into more detail: “I’ve wanted one of those for a long time!” “And it’s my favorite color!” “I can’t wait to play with it / read it / put it together!” “I LOVE crystals / robots / magic!” Then “See you at school!” and the “Love / Sincerely/ Your friend, William” part.
(photo of Penguin thank-you cards from Piccolino Designs on Etsy)
It’s kind of a pain to supervise these things, but it gets easier as the child gets older: I had to practically sit on William a couple of years ago, but this year all I had to do was remind him of the format and then he cranked them out. And it feels good to add to their Social Skills Folder: as with teaching how to say “Fine, thank you, and you?,” there are certain societal navigation tools that help a child to be well- or poorly-received by the culture he’s growing up in, and considering how often my children pick their noses, I like to increase the other things where I can.