I think that getting into the habit of writing thank you notes is a very important thing for a young person. The younger we start writing them, the less daunting they are.
I am convinced that a part of the the reason so many people think with horror about writing their 'thank yous' -- and then end up postponing it forever, is because no one expects Thank You notes until suddenly, at age 8 or 9, we are handed cards and told that now we have to figure out how to write a formal Thank You notes.
That's not fair! What should take a few moments and a reflection on the kindness of a loved one becomes a horrible chore. There is a very simple form that makes it easy -- and with a bit of practice, we can embellish the form to make it very personal. But we have to be taught how!
Jack has been writing his thank yous pretty much from the time he could make an impression on paper. His first "thank you notes" were scrawls of crayon on a card to which Mamma added a handwritten "thank you". Then came the elaborate sticker creations to which I added Jack's dictated thank yous.
Once he was old enough to understand the concept (around his third birthday, I think) we started working on form. One day, it will be important to hand write his thanks, but at the moment, Jack doesn't write yet so we're using the computer. Much better to focus on the parts that he can learn reasonably easily and add the others parts as he develops. I never want him to think of this as difficult!
There are several standard parts to a thank you letter, and I coach Jack through each one. The nature of these things is that we do one after another, so he gets to practice what he's (re)learned several times.
First, we assemble the gifts. Next Jack picks one up (and if there were several from the same giver, he gathers all of them in one stack.)
I write "Dear" and I ask him who the gift is from. He tells me and I repeat "Dear Grandpa John".
Then I write 'Thank you for the" and I ask him what Grandpa John gave him, and we write down the name of the gift(s) and I read the whole letter to Jack.
"Dear Grandpa John, thank you for the Winnie the Pooh book."
Next, I ask Jack what he likes best about the gift, and we write that down. "I really like the pictures in this book!"
Then, I read the whole thing back to Jack and ask him if there's anything else that he wants to say...if there is, we add that (this is often moderately incoherent at the moment, but it's his letter. As long as the basics are there, I stay out of his way.)
Then we add another thank you "Thank you so much for remembering my birthday!"
and the signature "Love, Jack"
and we're done. I still do *a lot* of coaching, but because it's easy, we can do all of his notes in a half hour. (Cut and paste the first letter, delete the details, pick up the next gift and discuss it and add the new details...et voila!)
This way, Jack is learning the form for thank you notes, the idea that they're easy and reasonably quick to write -- and most of all, he is learning to think about the people who love him enough to give him gifts and about the effort they put into picking a gift especially for him.
Gratitude is good -- but if we don't express it, it's impotent. Everyone wants to be thanked! It's not hard to do...you just have to know the trick!
Now that he's older, it's time to start reading my own thank you notes to him, so that he can get the idea that once the forms are in place, we can embroider them to make them our very own! I think that birthdays are a good time to start that, because he won't be making an immediate comparison to his own notes like he would at Yule.