Children who write notes and letters give a great deal of pleasure and have a better chance of experiencing the pleasure of receiving correspondence in return. More important, they grow up imbued with the knowledge of the power and pleasures of personal correspondence.
It is never too early to begin giving your children a respect for the written word and the ceremonies surrounding it. Even before children are old enough to write, they will be aware that writing letters is an important activity: “I'm writing to Aunt Nora to thank her for ….”
The thank-you letter is probably the first kind of correspondence your child will send. Make the experience as comfortable as possible. A thank-you note from a seven year old does not have to be spelled and punctuated perfectly. It is all right for a note from a child to look like a note from a child. Praise any effort a child makes to correspond.
But the basic rules apply even to the very young. The note needs a salutation. Mention the specific gift or favor. Sign with Love or other appropriate sentiment. Later, thank-you notes can include an acknowledgment of the effort behind the gift: “You must have spent the whole day baking these cookies.” You can also let the giver know how the gift will be used: “These cookies will be a big hit at my sleep-over party tomorrow.”
And yes, a child must send thank-you notes for Christmas gifts unless the giver is present—and is properly thanked—when the gift is opened.
Don't allow your children to use preprinted thank-you notes. They defeat the purpose of giving personal thanks for a personal gift.
Let's pretend that your child knocked a baseball through a neighbor's window. Even if the child apologized on the scene, a note of apology is called for. It should
- Be prompt.
- Acknowledge fault and apologize.
- Offer to make amends.
It should also be written in ink and signed Sincerely. The envelope should have the sender's name and address in the upper left, and the addressee's name should be preceded by an honorific such as Mr., Mrs., Ms., or Dr. (These, by the way, are the only honorifics that are abbreviated.) The letter will look something like this:
Dear Mr. Smith:
Please accept my apology for breaking your window the other day. It was careless of me, and I feel bad about it. I know all the trouble it has caused you. If you would like, I will repair the window myself. If you have made other arrangements, please send me the bill so that I can pay for the damage.