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Thank-you notes after verbal gratitude?

DEAR READERS: I’ve stepped away from my daily column for two weeks, while I work on my next book, a memoir, which is scheduled to be published in the fall. Please enjoy this topical “Best Of” column in my absence. Today’s topic is a perennial one: Thank-you notes. I’ll be back with fresh questions and answers next week.

DEAR AMY: I am good at writing thank-you notes and having my kids do so. But lately, when my son attends a party (he is 9) and we are thanked for the gift while we are there, we also receive a thank-you card in the mail. I thought that if someone is thanked in person, then a thank-you note is not necessary. What is appropriate?

EA in Colorado

DEAR EA: Are you actually advocating for receiving fewer thank-you notes?

Please. Make no sudden moves and back slowly away from this topic.

Strictly speaking, you are absolutely correct. If you are thanked sufficiently in person, then it is not necessary to also be thanked by mail.

But let’s not tell all of the 9-year-olds out there, OK? Their parents are working hard to make sure these kids grow up to be courteous, thoughtful and thankful, and that is a good thing for all of us. (October 2006)

DEAR AMY: Everyone agrees that people just don’t write thank-you notes these days, so I’m not dwelling on my disappointment at not hearing from any of my great-grandchildren to whom I have sent gifts. One of them, like me, has a love of books. I would like to hear from her because I’d love to know what book or books she got with her gift card. But she does not communicate. I am interested to see if your readers have ideas for getting some response from these dear ones who leave us feeling that they think we are doing only what we are supposed to do when we send gifts. I taught my children about thank-you notes, and during a career as a high school English teacher, I tried to teach thousands of young people about them. But the younger generation simply doesn’t get it. Can anyone suggest a strategy that will get a response?

Out-of-It in Connecticut

DEAR OUT-OF-IT: I know that this is a persistent and sticky problem. One suggestion I have is that you might try to email your great-granddaughter and check in with her to see how she is doing and what she is reading. (I know you have email because you sent me one.)

One reader who was similarly frustrated said that she shamed her young relations into being in touch. She taped self-addressed, stamped postcards to her gifts, asking their recipients to drop a line by slipping the card in the mail to let her know that they had received their gift. She said she had a lot of success and received newsy and thankful postcards in return.

I think it might be time to start a national movement. Thanking someone is so easy and so satisfying.

All we need is a slogan. (April 2006)

DEAR AMY: The fact that today’s children are not taught to write their thank-yous for the gifts they receive is just disgusting! People spend their hard-earned money and their time looking for that one perfect gift for that certain someone and that person can’t even take one moment’s time to write out a couple of words to express their gratitude. Here is what we did: When my stepson moved into our home, he refused to write thank-you notes. We quickly changed that when we told him that we would take his gifts and give them to charity or to children in the foster system for the next year. We set up a deadline after the holiday or birthday, then leave it in his hands. Just the thought of losing the gifts that he really would like to enjoy is enough to get him to express a simple word of “thanks.” Yes, it may seem harsh but, amazingly, his mother has now instituted the same plan and all of our relatives really like it.

Amy in Salina, Kansas

DEAR AMY: Another perhaps less “harsh” method would be to simply not let a child play with or use any gifts until all of the thank-you notes have gone out. I applaud your efforts to teach this important expression of gratitude — and the boy’s mother’s decision to keep this rule consistent between households. (May 2006)

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