If you've ever tried to learn a second language in your 20s or beyond then there is a good chance you've added your two cents to the common complaint: "I wish I had learned this language when I was younger! It would have been so much easier!" There is scientific research to support the refrain -- a child's mind goes through periods where it is more able to learn and map different types of information. After age 10 it becomes more difficult for us to learn and retain new words. The same logic applies to all sorts of things; this fairly obvious but critically important to remember as we raise our children.
When children are young we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to foster and facilitate certain habits of mind. I'm particularly interested in gratitude because I believe that a grateful outlook and psychological framework can lead most surely to a happy life. Thank-you notes are among the most action-oriented and meaningful ways to help a child really understand what it means to live gratefully. Here are four steps to help and encourage children write to thank-you notes and live gratefully:
- A Rule: Whenever your child receives a gift, make a rule of having him/her write a thank-you note for the gift before they can use it. This will procure an instinct for gratitude.
- An Explanation: Make sure you explain the importance of writing thank-you cards to your child -- help them focus on the specific things that he or she has received, and help them understand the value of these things. For example: If your daughter received a set of dolls for her birthday, help her write a thank-you note which explains what sort of games she is going to play with the dolls, what she has named the dolls, and help her tell the gift-giver that she can't wait to start playing with them. The more specific you teach your child to be in this process, the better able to understand the value of her new possessions and the meaning of gift giving; and ultimately the more able to understand gratitude she will become.
- An Activity: Make it fun. Find fun and colorful pens to write with, get cool cards. Make it an activity that your child looks forward to, rather than an obligation that he or she begins to dread. A thank-you card is a canvas for self-expression and all of the idiosyncratic loops and curves of a child's handwriting add texture and charm to the note. Don't worry too much about punctuation or spelling. In many ways little mistakes in grammar and spelling are some of the most heartwarming and fun parts of receiving something from a child. Once you've talked your child through the thank-you note and through their gratitude for the gift, let her take it away.
- A Tradition: Help her address the envelope and apply proper postage, and take the card out to the mailbox with her. And definitely let her raise the little red flag on the mailbox! This will help turn this beautiful moment into a childhood memory that she will look back on, and it will help turn your rule of writing thank-you notes into a tradition.
Author Matt Richardson is the co-founder of Gramr Gratitude Co. Gramr provides a subscription service for beautiful and original thank-you notes, their goal is to start a movement for gratitude and grateful living -- learn more about their vision of a more grateful world here.