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The Forgotten Art of Thank You Notes

March 4, 2015
By Heidi Maness Hartwiger - Natural Parent, Natural Child Series , OVParent

Where is "thank you"?

Lately, that simple phrase seems to be missing in action. Aren't "thank you" and "please" the crown jewels of manners training as we begin socializing our cherubs?

As time passes, parenting priorities move along to table manners then on to play group behavior. "Please" is useful, but "I'm sorry" becomes the play group operative phrase and vaults to the top the list. Who then is left to twist in the wind? "Thank you"! Yet opportunities to show appreciation with a quick "thank you" are around every corner.

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Conduct a little self check. How often in your daily journey do you say "thank you"? Did someone open a door for you? How about the grocery checker who opens a line and motions for you? Now, put the shoe on the other foot. You with 10 items in the express lane step aside for someone with one item. Doesn't that smile and unexpected "thanks" cheer you?

The kids are watching. Live action examples trump "situation discussions" every time.

Saying a quick "thank you" to someone is easy, but taking time to sit down with pen and paper to write a thank-you note is an entirely different matter. We rely on email, quick and efficient. Because many elementary kids have keypad skills, they easily could dash off a "thank you" via email. The sentiment may be the same, but there is a world of difference in receiving a little note in a child's handwriting.

Opportunities for notes of thanks stretch far beyond Christmas and birthdays. Your child can write a brief "thank you" to the host mom and best friend after a sleepover or when treated to an afternoon at the movies.

If writing thank-you notes seems daunting and laborious, consider the effort of the Romans in BC times. Using a metal stylus, they wrote on thin sheets of wax secured on wooden tablets. The good news is that mistakes could be rubbed away with the flat end of the stylus.

Our founding fathers used feather pens to sign our most important documents. It seems there were five special pen-worthy feathers plucked from the left wing of the goose or swan. Evidently, there is a unique curve to these left wing feathers, therefore left wing feathers are better for right-handed writers.

By 1884, gone were the days of dipping the pen in ink. Mary Bellis, who writes about inventors for, noted that Lewis Edson Waterman developed the first fountain pen with an internal reservoir for the ink. When I was in elementary school, we had to bring our own bottles of ink for refilling our pens. Fountain pen filling was a messy process.

According to Bellis' research, the commercial ball-point pen was developed in the early 1940s; it did not arrive in America until 1945. It seems the British government bought the rights to the ball-point pen when they found that this was a less troublesome pen for the British military in the field. The Japanese felt-tip pen came much later.

So now with a thank-you note in mind: Ready, set, go! Jump into the process. This should be good news to most children. Conventional wisdom indicates that a thank-you note can be three sentences. After the greeting, the first sentence is the outright "thank you" for the gift, event, etc. The second sentence is something specific about the gift or event. The final sentence is a general well- wishing. For example "Enjoy the spring flowers," "Have a happy summer," etc. Then the signature. If your little one does not write, be the secretary who faithfully transcribes the child's sentiment.

Creating homemade thank-you cards appeals to my nonconventional grandkids. I know before opening their envelopes, I am in for a treat. It might be a conventional thank-you note, a card covered with hand-drawn happy faces or a card with many a multicolored "thank you" in all sizes and styles.

So, on a "there's nothing to do" afternoon bring out paper, stickers, felt-tip pens, crayons and yes, tubes of glitter glue. Enjoy the fun as the kids to go into production, for there will be brightly decorated cards available whenever a "thank you" is needed.

Before bed as you count your blessings, tuck a surprise "thank you" under a deserving someone's pillow and see what happens. A delightful impromptu thank-you tradition might awaken with the morning sun.

~ Heidi Maness Hartwiger, a Wheeling native, is a writer, teacher and storyteller. She is the author of six books, including her most recent, a novel titled "Fire in Progress." She is a mother of four and a grandmother of five.



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