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Creative ideas for thank you notes for older children, preteens and teens

Older children either willingly write thank you notes, or dig their heels in and refuse!
Either way, they need to realize that acknowledging and conveying gratitude for gifts is non-negotiable. But while making this message clear, it's important for you, the parent, to be willing to compromise a little on the exact form that the thanks take.

Thank You Note Ideas for elementary school age children

Many school-age children are happy to write short thank you notes, providing that you keep things light and fun. Do allow them to make the notes short though, and don't force them to write more than a couple of notes at a time. Most children find it agony to have to slog their way through writing out a dozen notes in one go!

It's helpful to write out a thank you note template that your child can either copy word for word, or use as inspiration and a 'jumping-off' point (depending on their age and writing and composition skills). See our kids thank you notes samples page (coming soon) for lots of ideas. Allowing your child to write BIG on a large sheet of paper (rather than trying to fit their note onto an itsy-bitsy adult size note card) can be a big motivator. Remember to help with spelling the more difficult names and words. When they've finished, encourage them to decorate the sheet with a colorful border or hearts and kisses (as appropriate). This quickly shifts the whole thank you note writing process over from 'work' to 'fun'.

Although at this age many children will be happy to write out their notes, there will still be plenty who don't want anything to do with the process! In this case dictation is the way to go. Ask your child to say a few sentences about the gift (assuming they like it! If not see below), then write or type up what they say. When you've done that, get them to sign the note and perhaps draw a picture or pose for a photo to send with the note. Job done!

Reluctant writers might like to use 'fill-in-the-blanks' thank you cards which have a pre-printed text with spaces for the child to fill in the name of the recipient, the name of the gift, and adjectives describing both the gift and their feelings on receiving it. Personally I find these a little impersonal and not really suitable for larger gifts or gifts from close friends and family. Having said that, they are a great solution for really reluctant writers, and are generally fine for smaller gifts, or for example to send to school friends following a birthday party.

A variation on the 'fill-in-the-blanks' thank you card is the 'tick box' thank you card or note. These feature a full pre-printed thank you text, which can be personalized (using the term loosely!) by ticking one of several options for adjectives to describe the gift and the child's feelings about it. These cards tend to be jokey, silly and even deliberately insulting, so if you do want to buy them, choose carefully. Generally I wouldn't recommend them at all unless you are sure the recipient will enjoy the 'irony' of the text.

Getting your kids some stationery of their very own can be a great motivator too. Let them pick out some cute note cards, or create a personalized design on your computer and print them out as required. Artistic children will enjoy creating their own cards. Buy pre-folded greetings card blanks (usually sold with matching envelopes), or simply use a nice piece of colored card stock (of a good thickness) and fold it in half to make a card. Pretty much any picture the child chooses to draw is fine, but they may like to draw the gift, or do a self-portrait.

If your child dislikes writing and isn't motivated by the idea of drawing a thank you picture, then perhaps they would enjoy creating a thank you video clip! For a younger child, this could be as simple as smiling broadly at the camera and saying 'Thank you Auntie Lisa, I love the Lego set!', or more of a 'video letter' really an oral thank you note. Make sure your child remembers to say the recipient's name, and mention why they like the gift, or how they plan to use it:

Auntie Lisa, I love the Lego set. It's just so cool, plus it completes my collection. Thank you so much!


Dear Auntie Lisa,
Thank you so much for the Lego. I'm so looking forward to playing with it with my friend Daniel when he visits next week. I absolutely love it!

Saying thank you for a gift when the child doesn't like it

Elementary-age children will often resist writing a thank you note for a gift that they don't like (or that is a duplicate of something they already own). Now, then, is the time for a little talk on gratitude and the importance of appreciating the sender's generosity, even if their gift doesn't exactly hit the mark.

When writing the thank you note for an unsuccessful gift, encourage your child to write a simple thank you, and then focus on something more abstract such as the generosity of the giver, the child's love of fashion (if the gift was an item of clothing) or reading (if the gift was a book) etc. For example:

Dear Uncle Jim,
Thank you very much for the book of adventure stories. You know how I love reading!


Dear Cousin Ashley,
Thank you for the sweatshirt you know how much I love clothes. Mom is always complaining that my wardrobe is bursting!

Alternatively, up the creativity a simple thank you plus an elaborate drawing or enthusiastic paragraph on your plans for the coming year will mask the lack of delight in the present. Don't let your child be tempted to lie and sing the praises of the dud gift, if only because that may well result in them receiving another similar gift next year!

Thank you note ideas for preteens and teens

This is the age where things either start to go right (i.e. your child has 'got the habit' and happily produces thank you notes with just a little help and not too much nagging), or they start to go very wrong (i.e. the child who finally digs in their heels regarding thank you notes and screams NO!). It can be tempting to use heavy-handed tactics such as refusing to let them have/use their gift until the thank you note has been written. But frankly, if you are facing real resistance then such tactics are unlikely to help, and may result in ugly scenes and a battle of wills. Don't sacrifice family harmony for the sake of a thank you note!

Instead, seek a compromise. Perhaps your (pre)teen is willing to write an e-mail? Perhaps they can be persuaded to select and write an e-card? Or maybe they will agree to make a pleasant, chatty phone call to the person who sent them the gift? OK, it's not the hand-written note that you want them to produce, but better to encourage a thank you call while their gratitude is still genuine, than force the writing of a note that ends up 100% duty and 0% gratitude.

In the quest to get those notes written, you may want to consider providing a little 'incentive' for getting them done a pizza night perhaps? Or a sleepover, or movie tickets...

At the very least it's reasonable to expect your (pre)teen to pose for a 'thank you photo': perhaps together with the gift, or if it's not too cheesy for them with a 'Thank you Uncle Jo!' sign. Yes, a photo thank you will mean you doing most of the work (take the photo, download, print, send...), but it at least keeps the spirit of saying thank you in the frame.

If it's handwriting that is the sticking point for your (pre)teen, then there's no reason not to let them dictate their thank you notes. In fact I don't think there is an age when you have to stop dictation (after all it's what top executives do!). Certainly it would seem unfair to force a child who is dyslexic or has other writing issues to hand write notes.

Drawings are still a great idea even as your child gets older. Include one with a note written by you if necessary (although your child should write the note's initial greeting and, of course, sign his or her name). Video cards as described above are a great idea for this age range, when they can be encouraged to make them quite elaborate.

All in all, what really matters is that your child has created something with the recipient in mind. And there's no law to say that that 'something' has to be a few words, forced grudgingly out of them!

If the thank you note process is turning into a real struggle, then cut a deal select the 5 (say) most important people on the list, and when your (pre)teen has written those notes, either let him/her phone the others, or write the thank you notes yourself on your (pre)teen's behalf.

If your (pre)teen simply won't budge and you're at your wit's end, then here's one final idea: call the gift-givers up and explain the situation, suggesting that they withhold further gifts until thank you notes are forthcoming. Those who have tried this report that the results can be dramatic, with subsequent thank you notes being written in record time!

Saying thank you for a gift when the child doesn't like it

You (pre)teen is surely aware by now that a gift whether successful or not requires an acknowledgement and gratitude. A noted above, it's best to resist any temptation to lie about your feelings regarding the gift. Instead, thank the giver and then emphasize something more abstract (the giver's generosity and thoughtfulness etc.) or launch into a detailed description of this season's school sporting fixtures.

Thank you note ideas for older teenagers

The hope is that by the time a child is in his or her late teens, he or she will fully understand the reasons and motivation behind the writing of thank you notes and cards, and be capable of taking over the whole process perhaps with just a little supervision to make sure it gets done in a timely manner.

Do provide your teen with stationery and materials (or encourage them to select their own ones). And teens are not beyond being motivated by treats, so suggest that you celebrate with a special meal (for example) when the notes are done. It may help to set aside a time for the whole family to write their thank you notes together, perhaps with a plate of favorite cookies and some teen-friendly music.

If your teen is still reluctant to write their notes, allow them some leeway: if they hate to write by hand, allow them to type. Suggest that they create an artwork or video thank you in place of a note. What about recording a thank you in poem or song form? Basically, if they have an idea and it isn't offensive then go with it. The recipient will likely be so surprised and gratified to receive anything that they won't mind at all.

Saying thank you for gifts when the child doesn't like them

Older teens, on the verge of adulthood, should be able to deal with disappointment, and acknowledge an unsuccessful gift with an appropriate message. See above, or read sample notes (coming soon) for unwanted gifts.

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