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What happened to thank-you notes?

The Christmas presents have all been opened -- but have you and your children mailed your thanks to all of the gift-givers yet?

By Giselle Smith Jan 3, 2012 12:33PM

When I was growing up, writing thank-you notes was an onerous but necessary task that followed every gift-receiving occasion. My parents made me write one for each Christmas present or cash-enclosing birthday card from faraway relatives.

As a childless adult, I've lost track of how many gifts I've purchased for the offspring of friends and relatives, but I could probably count on two hands how many hand-written thank-you notes I've received. Though most parents I know are polite, and they take pains to teach their children manners, this seems to no longer include writing thank-you notes.

A recent online survey conducted by Today Moms and found that just 30.7% of parents require that their children always write thank-you notes, and a full 27.6% said they never do.


This is too bad, because the practice can teach children valuable lessons that will serve them well in the future -- socially, financially and in business.

Etiquette experts agree

I'm not alone in mourning the passing of thank-you notes. Etiquette and parenting experts assert that it's still important -- though they take different positions on what form they should take.

  • Sticklers for propriety say the notes must be hand-written and should be on stationery or plain note paper, not pre-printed cards. Emily Post, of course, says hand-written notes are always appropriate: "The rule of thumb is that you should send a written note any time you receive a gift (even a 'thank you' gift) and the giver wasn't there to thank in person."
  • Some say e-cards are now appropriate. "It may be not as much of an effort as it is to write a thank-you note, address it and stamp it, but this is just as effective," etiquette specialist Cynthia Hightower-Jenkins told USA Today.
  • Says's Table Manners column:
"(F)or most thank-you purposes, an email is appropriate. Now that people use text messaging so much, email has some of the old-fashioned cachet that paper cards have. This is even truer if you use a service like Paperless Post to create a virtual thank-you card."

Whatever form the thank-you note takes, teaching your child to send a note can have benefits. Post continues below.

It teaches the value of time and money. "Whenever someone gives you a gift, they're taking a piece of their own resources and handing it to you, a resource that could have been used to plan for their own future," The Simple Dollar blogger Trent Hamm wrote. "With that consideration, I'm usually quite grateful for any gift I receive, and a thank-you note is a very tangible way to show your thanks for that gift."


It teaches a valuable skill. Writing holiday thank-you notes is good practice for writing interview thank-you letters as children grow up and start looking for a job.


It helps your kids stand out. Supermodel and mother-of-four Heidi Klum complimented her friend Victoria Beckham for teaching her children impeccable manners, according to Mail Online: "She has the best behaved kids in the world. When we go to their birthday parties, each of the kids writes handwritten thank-you notes on their own headed paper."


Even if you're not a celebrity, it's never too early to start. Teach your children to write and send thank-you notes as soon as they are verbal, Hightower-Jenkins said, even if all they can do is scribble their names.

Some tips from Emily Post:

  • "Cut out the obligation and play up the gratitude." 
  • Make the activity age-appropriate. Let younger kids dictate what they want to say, sign their own names and stamp the envelopes.
  • Talk about the reasons for writing thank-you notes. 
  • "Remember to keep it fun! If you view this as drudgery, so will the kids."

Parents will be rewarded for their efforts, as Perry Hall Patch contributor Stacey Schantz wrote: "I know the significance is getting through, because after receipt of one gift, my son whispered to me that he needed to write a thank-you note because that was exactly what he had been hoping for."


Not writing thank-you notes can have consequences too. I confess that I stopped sending gifts to relatives who didn't even let me know my packages had arrived. It wasn't punitive, just practical. As Washington Post reader "Sarahabc" wrote: "Nobody wants to throw gifts into a black hole where they aren't acknowledged."

Do your children write thank-you notes -- or do you? What's your take on handwritten vs. email?

More on MSN Money:

Jan 4, 2012 2:52PM
BTW, since gift cards are so popular nowdays, I also send a picture or inform the giver what I purchased with the gift card.  I like for them to know exactly how their money was used.  I am not a huge fan of buying gift cards as a gift.  I want to know you well enough to know what you will like or need; however, in the few situations when I have purchased gift cards, I have always wondered what the person used it to purchase. 
Jan 4, 2012 2:49PM

I do teach my child to write "Thank You" cards when he receives gifts.  I think it is an extra step in letting the person know that their effort and thought is really appreciated.


I sent my nieces' pearl necklace sets for their 16th birthdays (they are 17 months apart).  They were not top of the line pearls but a little something special to acknowledge their special birthdays.  Neither of them sent a note or card and the youngest didn't even acknowledge that she received it.  My sister sent me a text letting me know it arrived.  The next month, I canceled the $50 a month depostit that I had going alternately into college savings accounts for them. 


I have my own child to save for and definitely don't have to use my resources for kids who are ungrateful and entitled.

Jan 4, 2012 2:38PM

When my kids were little I taught them to write a simple 3 line thank you note.

1. "Thank you for the ..."

2. Tell what you like about the gift

3. Tell how you are going to use the gift

That was it. Now 20 years later they are out on their own and they still write thank you notes. I think it was because we made it easy for them when they were young.


Jan 4, 2012 1:21PM
I sent my niece a gold pendant, with an angel on it, from the SIstine Chapel that has become so popular in recent years. Since I am also her godmother, (not that it means anything to her0 I thought it was a nice gift to have that let her know I cared about her. Instead she called me and asked why I sent her that...needless to say, I am making far less effort to buy her anything at all. I have not seen her in years, so this year, so when I heard she had bought a house with her boyfriend,, I sent her a "housewarming" gift - a L'Occitane hand soap and cream duo on a nice silver tray, and I think she was not sure why she got that either. Each year, the gifts get smaller. Next year will be a new tradition = nothing. Not only do I not get a thank note, I think she expects me to send her something more expensive - not likely if she is forever telling me that she does not have the time to see me - after several invitations. I no longer have the time to spend money on someone who is not grateful for what she does get. I only got thank  you notes when I spent a couple hundred on her. Keep the notes, honey and I will keep the money.
Jan 4, 2012 1:13PM
My son had his birthday very close to Christmas and he spent 20 minutes a day during his Christmas break writing thank you notes.  It reminded him what each friend/relative gave him and it served as a way to improve his creative writing skills.  Writing thank you notes is a life skill that unfortunately not many people learn these days. 
Jan 4, 2012 1:10PM
I'm 24 years old, and this Christmas was the first holiday that I've ever sent Thank Yous. My family has just never done this for holidays; always for graduations/life events, but never holidays for some reason.

I found that writing out my cards helped me truly appreciate the people who gave me gifts. In writing, I reflected on how kind they were to even remember me, and/or how perfect the gift matched me and my personality.

I wish I had done this more often as I grew up, especially during the holidays.

Jan 4, 2012 1:05PM
I was never taught to write thank you notes as a kid. I got a gift from my aunt she called a few weeks later to see if I got it because she never got a thank you note. So of course I was blamed for my parents' oversight.

As an adult I write them now, especially after I got married and when my son was born. When the time comes I'll teach him to write them.

Jan 4, 2012 1:04PM

As a child I was taught to write thank you notes, but as an adult I've stopped to some degree.  I still write them to the people I know will "get" it.  But its a little disheartening to write a thank you to someone and have them ask " whats this for?".  Strange times we live in when a thank you is met with confusion and suspicion. 

Jan 4, 2012 12:08PM

Yeah, I am tired of having to call people and say "Did you get the gift I sent?"  It seems people just "expect" the gifts they are "entitled to" and don't feel like thanks are necessary,  When I stopped sending gifts to ungrateful nephews, all I heard was how stingy and mean I'd become.  Most people today don't have a clue about manners or common courtesy.  It makes me sick.

Jan 4, 2012 10:30AM

All I can think of is how rude my niece was. 


My mom and I gave her a VERY generous wedding/baby gift (the baby came before the wedding),  Neither of us EVER got any kind of a note from her.  Yeah I know she was busy and working, but IMHO that was just rude- considering how far we drove to go out there to see her. 


Do I want to give her another gift for the baby that's due in June?  No.  But I will because it's the "right" thing to do. 


My oldest is going to graduate from high school in June.  We were looking online at graduation announcements and her eyes got huge when I told her that "Yes- every single gift you get for graduation is going to need a thank-you note."

Jan 4, 2012 10:30AM
This was actually a topic of conversation over the holidays with my family. I found out that my husband and I grew up on opposite ends of the thank you note spectrum. As children my sister and I wrote thank you notes for every gift received even if we thanked the gift giver in person. To this day I write a note every time a thank you is warranted - when a gift is received, after a job interview, even when my daughter's daycare staff go above and beyond. During this conversation I learned that when my husband was growing up an in person thank you was sufficient and if a gift was mailed sometimes he would call the person to thank him. He did not write thank you notes at all. Now that we have a child it is important to me that we are part of the 30.7%. In my mind, it takes thought and energy to choose and send a gift so I believe that the same thought and energy should go into acknowledging the gift and thanking the person. I agree with some of the other posters, when a gift that I give goes unacknowledged I tend to not want to put in as much effort the next time around.
Jan 4, 2012 10:20AM
My mom taught me that you could not use a gift until you wrote a thank you note. I am not as strict with my kids but they are required to write thank you notes. I know my grandma saves the notes she receives from my kids because they are the only thank yous she gets from her 20 plus great grandchildren. I think if anyone takes the time to select something special for you, then you should take the time to thank them personally.
Jan 4, 2012 9:52AM
I couldn't agree more.  My mother taught me to write thank-you notes as a child, and I taught my sons to do the same.  Since my family and I have always lived out-of-state or out-of-country from our childhood families, unacknowledged gifts are a sore point with me.  It takes a lot of time, energy and sometimes money to find, package, and mail the 'right' gift to each niece, nephew, and adult relative.  If the receiver can't be bothered to respond with a call, email or written note, then my enthusiasm to repeat the process is greatly diminished. 
Jan 4, 2012 5:35AM

Good thing by all means.


Lets teach our kids to not just say thank you for Christmas or any other tangible items. But to say thank you for every favors they receive. Such thanking their teacher for teaching them things; thanking their nice neighbours by being nice; thanking their caring parents ...the list goes on.


Lets teach them to say 'thank you'  and be good to each other unconditionally !

Jan 4, 2012 4:08AM
Honestly I don't think it matters if it's handwritten or not -- Gratitude is gratitude, one just has a slower way of reaching you (Here's to you, snail mail!)

A thank you, as long as it's sincere can really go a long way.
It doesn't have to be posh headed notepaper or whatever, I mean heck, I'd take a phone call over a note any day!

Jan 3, 2012 11:25PM
One of my own grown daughters is in grave danger of my "forgetting" to purchase a birthday gift for her next time around. I don't care if it's a phone call, text, email, or snail mail, but no thank you, no gift next time.
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