DEAR MISS MANNERS: I’d like to get your opinion on children’s preprinted thank-you notes. I’ve seen a few where the body is printed out, but the child is required to fill in only the names of the giver, the gift and his or her name.
I think this is a good way to initiate my 3- and 5-year-olds to the etiquette of expressing gratitude for a gift, but my mother thinks they are impersonal and insulting, since they are not handwritten (by either me or the child).
GENTLE READER: That you are teaching your children to send thank-you letters is admirable. But why are you not teaching them how to compose them?
“Because they can’t write,” you respond, politely refraining (Miss Manners hopes) from adding, “Duh.”
True. You may have to do the actual writing. But you can teach them to do the thinking. Form letters are not cute, even from toddlers.
You should be questioning the children to extract the essentials of a letter of thanks: a specific, favorable reaction to the present; an expression of gratitude; and a bit of chattiness to establish the idea that it is not just the present that is valued, but the relationship.
This is not going to be easy. Any expressions of delight when opening the package should be noted, but those are not apt to be especially articulate. So the process goes something like this:
Parent: “What can we tell Aunt Tilda about how much you like the sweater?”
Child: “I wanted a firetruck.”
Parent: “I know. But it’s your favorite color. Isn’t purple your favorite color?”
Parent: “What can you tell your aunt about what you’ve been doing?”
Child: “Nothing special.”
Parent: “Sure you did. We went to the museum, remember? What did we see?”
Child: “The food court.”
Parent: “Yes, but what else? Remember the dinosaurs? What were they like?”
Eventually, you can put together something that the child vaguely recognizes as his. And – even more eventually – it will teach him how to write a letter of thanks.