Everyday Etiquette: The Thank You Note

The Art (and Obligation) of the Thank-You Note

The rule is this: Every gift requires a thank-you note. This might sound like a huge project after the holidays or a big birthday bash, but someone took the time to go to the store, buy a gift, wrap it, buy a card and put your name on it. That effort must be acknowledged.

By Diane Gottsman

by Diane Gottsman I am often asked about the "rules" when it comes to writing a thank-you note. Is a young child exempt from a note? Do they have to actually write it themselves? What if they are too young? Is a thank-you note always necessary? Will an email thank-you note suffice?

Fortunately, it can become a family tradition to sit down and write out thank-you notes together.

Any Age: A thank-you note should be sent, regardless of your child's age. If your child is very young, but able to draw or color, you could write a short note of thanks and have your child draw a picture of the gift (or anything you can get him or her to create).

On Time: Ideally, a thank-you note should be written within 48 hours of receiving a gift. A quick response is a sign that your child (and you) appreciate and are enjoying the gift. By the way, a telephone call or email is not the same as a handwritten note or drawing.

What to Say: Keep the thank-you note short, sweet and to the point. Mention the gift and how your child likes it and intends to use it. If your child is capable of writing, he or she should follow the same guidelines. For young children, don't worry about less-than-perfect handwriting and misspelled words.

Tips: be sure to include a return address on the label and correct postage. This is a good time to talk to young children about what a stamp is, what it looks like and what function it serves.

Remember, the idea behind a thank-you note is to show appreciation for a special gesture. It is our small part in making the world a little bit nicer.


Diane Gottsman is the director of The Protocol School of Texas, which specializes in age-appropriate etiquette programs for children as well as adults striving to fine-tune their skills. She has a master's degree in sociology/education and is certified in all areas of protocol.