A+ Advice for Parents

Graduate Must Learn to Send Thank-You Notes

Q: In May, we gave my nephew, Brody, a substantial check for his high school graduation. He deserved it, graduating third in his class, but he's never thanked us. I adore him, but this drives me crazy. I believe good etiquette is as important as any academic skill. My husband says to let it go. Should I?

A: I'm in your camp. Knowing when to show appreciation isn't just good etiquette; it's an important social skill.

As an adoring aunt, you're entitled to give your nephew a helpful life lesson before he heads to college.

Forward to Brody this advice from Lizzie Post, the great-great-granddaughter of Emily Post and author of "How Do You Work This Life Thing? Advice for the Newly Independent on Roommates, Jobs, Sex, and Everything That Counts" (William Morrow, 2007).

Post says grads "absolutely have to be sending handwritten thank-you notes." They don't have to be long or complicated, only heartfelt. If the gift was cash, mention how it will be used -- such as putting it toward a laptop computer.

Post adds, "If the givers have also been a source of love and support throughout your life, mention in your note what they've meant to you. Close by sharing your hope that you'll see them soon."

While a handwritten note is proper form, grads can use creativity to get the job done. A friend of mine recently received a meaningful emailed "thank you" from a grad: a beautiful slideshow of photos of them together from past years. Each photo and caption triggered great memories.

Tell Brody that there's good evidence that expressing gratitude can make him a better, healthier person. Several studies have shown that being grateful can improve one's well-being and strengthen social relationships. It can enhance physical health, produce positive emotional states and even help diffuse stress.

Psychologist Robert Emmons says that when we make gratitude a policy and a practice, it "builds up a sort of psychological immune system that can cushion us when we fall. There is scientific evidence that grateful people are more resilient to stress, whether minor everyday hassles or major personal upheavals."

Adam Grant of the University of Pennsylvania and Francesca Gino of Harvard University found that gratitude has a profound effect that can bestow a big benefit to young people starting out in the world.

In a series of experiments, a fictional student named Eric enlisted advice via email from adults. The researchers discovered that when Eric expressed thanks, advice-givers were much more willing to help him again with advice and encouragement.

Grant and Gino also found that advice-givers weren't offering more help because it boosted their self-esteem, but because they appreciated being needed and felt more socially valued when Eric thanked them. Grant elaborates on this research in his book "Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success" (Viking Adult, 2013).

Let this all sink in with Brody. If he's the smart cookie he seems to be, he'll thank you for the rest of your life.

(Do you have a question about your child's education? Email it to Leanna@aplusadvice.com. Leanna Landsmann is an education writer who began her career as a classroom teacher. She has served on education commissions, visited classrooms in 49 states to observe best practices, and founded Principal for a Day in New York City.)

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