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Expressing our thanks with a beautiful handwritten note is a personal and great way to teach our children gratitude. But when you're the parent of small children, it comes down to YOU to see this task through. Ultimately, what should be a lovely gesture can feel like a total burden.
Back when I was personal secretary to just one child, I invited everyone in my daughter's preschool to her first "big" birthday party. She received about 30 gifts. Monday, at school, I thanked one of the moms for the great gift and mentioned a thank-you note to her son would be forthcoming.
"You're so welcome," she said. "But as far as I'm concerned, kids don't need to write thank-you notes until they can write them themselves." Nice of her to say, but no way. I would handwrite every single thank-you note to every single child for as long as my kids received gifts.
Then I had another child. And the birthday parties kept coming. I could barely keep up with purchasing presents for their friends and getting everyone to all these parties, never mind tackling the long list of thank-you notes for the gifts my kids received. I believe all parents with 3 or more children would be in their right minds to hire a Manager of Gifting and Receiving.
Let me be clear, I love the handwritten note, and I do think it's the best way. But when our lives get unexpectedly busy (which is often) and we become overwhelmed, there are other options.
Video: My daughter gave a classmate binoculars for his birthday and I received a surprise video via text message the next day. Let me tell you— there is nothing cuter than a 4-year-old boy unwrapping his gift, looking into the camera and saying, "Thank you so much! I love it!" A handwritten note by mom doesn't have big brown eyes, floppy hair and a sugarsweet voice.
Photo: A picture of your child opening or enjoying the gift says a thousand words— including "thank you"! Older children can help out by taking the photos and making the prints. The younger one can scribble his or her name on the back. Any time my littles receive a photo of a friend they spend a ridiculously adorable amount of time just staring at it. They're visual people, these munchkins.
Toy: Small thank-you gifts can be left in their school cubbies. Ask your child what she'd like to give each individual child. If Jonah likes superheroes and Maisey likes dinosaurs, you can find tubes of plastic figurines at most arts and crafts stores. And if Bobby likes rocks, well, it's your lucky day.
Mass Email: Don't apologize for the mass email, embrace it! I prefer to call it "Group Gratitude." Thank you ALL so much for coming. Wasn't it great to see the kids playing so well together? The party was a shared experience, why shouldn't the thank-you be, as well? You can even attach a digital photo of the whole gang. And it's environmentally friendly and a great talking point with the kiddos.
Prewritten: For me, the problem is that I'm never prepared when the time comes to write the notes. I've spent all my energy planning the party and making it a success and once it's over, the last thing I want to do is another party-related task. The hassle can be made easier with fill-in-the-blank cards. And as soon as you get that class roster in the summer, go ahead and pre-address those envelopes while you're sitting by the pool. Hey, we preschedule tweets and posts to make our lives easier, this is possible with written correspondence too.
Grandma taught us that handwriting thank-you notes was the only way. Fortunately, we have more options these days. What's important is that we teach our kids the value of saying thank you. Looking a friend in the eye and simply saying thanks might be the best way of all.