Even as the formal thank-you note is slipping fast out of favor in the adult world, many of the same parents who are content to whip off an email of appreciation for their own gifts are insistent that their children learn to write the real thing.

It’s a skill well worth teaching. Something as simple as a gift for a first grader's birthday party takes planning and effort. It takes time to focus on the child who is to receive it, time to select the right gift wrap, time to find or make a card, and of course, time to ship or hand deliver the package.

Maybe that's why it's such a letdown when a gift goes unacknowledged. Or equally bad, when it is met with a generic or preprinted thanks. Teaching your child to write prompt, thoughtful, and genuine thank-you notes won't just ensure the giver doesn't turn blue waiting to hear how their gift went over, it will also set your child on the path toward manners that will serve her well for a lifetime. If she learns "how to" at an early age, later down the road she just might eschew text messaging a thank you on her Blackberry, for a good old-fashioned pen-and-ink note.

The process doesn't have to be painful. Dividing the task into sections of about 2-5 cards per day keeps it doable. And working with your child to personalize each card can even make the process fun.

Here are a few tips to make your child's thank-you cards memorable.

  • Help kids tell a story in each card. A sentence or two about how they played their new game that evening and beat mom, or slept with the new stuffed pony, helps the sender imagine their gift in action.
  • Keep the pressure to a minimum. Handwritten is best, but don't treat this as a writing assignment. Remember, your mission is to gracefully thank the sender, not to perfect your child's letter formation. Children too young to write well can dictate the body of the card to you. This will allow your child's unique personality to sparkle through without worry about spelling getting in the way.
  • Say it with pictures. Snap digital photos of your child playing with or holding each gift and print them out on laser paper. Have your child write or dictate their message around the image to make a particularly special thank-you note.
  • Add some action! If you really want to go high-tech, but in a warm-and-fuzzy way, create a digital card and attach a video clip of your child playing with her gift, singing a song to the sender, or telling grandma why she loves her new tricycle so much.
  • Tuck in a treat. Every once in a while, a gift is so special that it deserves nothing less than a gift in return. For that really amazing moment, consider including some token of appreciation in your thank-you card, such as a painting created by your child, a batch of cookies you baked together, or something else that shows how much the sender’s thoughtfulness meant to you.

 The coolest of thank-you cards are all about keeping the relationship warm. So get your kids started early. You’ll have everyone’s thanks.