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How teaching your kids gratitude changes as they grow up

By Amy Silverman
Published: Wednesday, November 22, 2023 - 1:15pm

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When our kids are little, it’s easy to teach them “please” and “thank you.”

But like so many other things, expressing gratitude gets more complicated as adulthood approaches.

The Show’s Amy Silverman explains in an essay.

Several years ago, my daughter Annabelle graduated from high school. An avalanche of presents and good wishes followed. I kept track, and a few weeks later I handed Annabelle the list of gift givers and a pile of blank thank you notes.

I should have been suspicious when she emerged from her bedroom 15 minutes later with the stack of cards and a chipper, “I’m done!”

Instead I addressed, stamped and dropped the envelopes in the mail.

A few days later, I received a rare text from my freshman college roommate, the kind of friend you love and miss and trade your kids’ graduation announcements with. And I could hear the laughter all the way from Houston.

My friend sent a photo of some familiar handwriting.

“Thank you so much for the money! With love, Annabelle.”

That’s it. That’s the note. No, “I’m saving up to travel,” or “I’m so excited for college,” or “I plan to study dance,” or “This sure will buy a lot of beer,” or something.

So that’s why she got them done so quickly!

Below the image, my friend had texted, “Best thank you note ever!!! Love it.”

I replied in all caps:

“I AM MORTIFIED.”

My friend responded:

“You should be proud! Succinct, to the point, no BS! We laughed our asses off!!!”

It was too late to do much there, so I focused instead on getting Annabelle ready for college. Slipping stationery, stamps and an address book into one of her boxes alongside the thrifted dinnerware and enormous jug of multivitamins.

Yeah, yeah, I know that thank you cards aren’t really a thing anymore, but I’m old-fashioned, or maybe just old. For me, nothing replaces a handwritten note as an expression of gratitude. Particularly at a time when we break up on Post-It notes and post eulogies on Facebook.

I shouldn’t have been surprised. Annabelle’s never been particularly into gifts, either giving or receiving. I haven’t asked, but I’d bet she would say something like, “That’s just a fake way of showing someone you care about them. And I have too much stuff already.”

That’s fair. And recently I discovered that what she lacks in note writing skills, she more than makes up for just by being herself.

This past spring, Annabelle graduated from college. She’s still living out of town, but took a dance class at her old studio on a recent visit home.

“Mom, it was such a good class,” she reported later. “But one of my high school ballet teachers was there, and she was terrible. She had the technique and all, but she doesn’t dance with generosity.”

That’s it, I thought. Annabelle moves through the world with generosity. At the moment she’s figuring out what she wants to do with her life — she’s a dancer, a singer, a visual artist, a choreographer, a teacher and a caregiver.

But whatever she does … she does it with other people in mind. With her heart. With generosity.

All I do is write silly thank you notes. And to be honest, I haven’t been so great about that, lately.

Annabelle’s home for Thanksgiving, and as I was turning my office back into a bedroom the other day, I noticed a couple of graduation gifts she received this summer, abandoned on a shelf.

Maybe I’ll leave a few cards on the bed. Just in case she’s feeling generous.

Annabelle Stern
Amy Silverman/KJZZ
Annabelle Stern

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