Thanks, but no fanks

Tam­sin Kelly on the art of show­ing ap­pre­ci­a­tion

The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - - Family & Education -

Noth­ing quite puts the ki­bosh on the happy New Year like over­see­ing the pro­duc­tion of three chil­dren’s thank-you let­ters. For many happy pre-school years, we got away with a draw­ing, a wob­bly sig­na­ture and a let­ter penned by me. Now, thank-you let­ters can stretch into the be­gin­ning of term. That first flurry of ac­tiv­ity, armed with an arse­nal of glit­ter pens and new let­ter writ­ing kit, wanes to one la­bo­ri­ous sen­tence a day. Even more painfully, my chil­dren are now at an age when writ­ing “Fanks for the jik­saw” has slid from funny to frankly wor­ry­ing.

“Why bother?” says one friend and god­mother, who de­clared an amnesty on chil­dren hav­ing to write thank-you let­ters. “Just pick up the phone. Any­way, if your chil­dren do it, mine will have to, and life’s too short.”

But I still be­lieve my po­ten­tial pain is worth the plea­sure rel­a­tives feel on re­ceiv­ing a thank-you let­ter. Af­ter my grand­mother died, we dis­cov­ered she had kept a drawer full of thank-you let­ters from her 13 grand­chil­dren. Some were terse two-lin­ers, some lengthy fam­ily chron­i­cles; but all were ob­vi­ously much trea­sured, even decades later.

“A lit­tle ap­pre­ci­a­tion goes a long way,” agrees Jo Bryant, ed­i­tor of De­brett’s Cor­rect Form. “As soon as chil­dren are old enough, they should be en­cour­aged to write thank-you let­ters. Noth­ing beats a nice, hand­writ­ten let­ter, with a lit­tle bit of pad­ding as to why the present was spe­cial or what they’re go­ing to do with it, and a piece of news. Make sure it’s not too flowery or false and that it’s writ­ten on good-qual­ity plain pa­per with a nice pen, not a ball­point. We rec­om­mend you should send let­ters within a week to 10 days af­ter Christ­mas. If you’re re­ally be­hind, you could make a hold­ing phone call. But still write.”

Hon­esty is not the best pol­icy when writ­ing thank-you let­ters. The re­cip­i­ent does not want to know you’ll be swap­ping it for some­thing more to your taste, al­ready have one or have bro­ken it, lost it or can’t re­mem­ber what it was. In other words, try not to em­u­late my chil­dren’s favourite char­ac­ter, Hor­rid Henry. In­fu­ri­ated by his par­ents’ in­sis­tence on writ­ing five sen­tences to thank Aunt Ruby for a re­volt­ing lime green cardi­gan, he writes: “No thank you for the hor­ri­ble present. It’s the worst present I have ever had. Any­way, didn’t some old Ro­man say it was bet­ter to give than to re­ceive? So in fact, you should be writ­ing me a thank-you let­ter. PS: next time just send money.”

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