8 Proven Tips To Get Your Kids to Write Thank You Notes

Last updated on May 30th, 2017 at 09:43 pm

writing-thank-you-notesDid you know that writing “thank you” notes is a simple, verified way to boost your child’s gratitude? That’s what researchers from the University of  California at Davis and Southern Methodis University found. But that’s not all: Researchers also discovered that being thankful might be the key to raising  your child’s happiness and well-being.

For more than ten years two professors, Robert Emmons and Michael McCollugh, examined data of several hundred people who were involved in  their  simple gratitude experiments.

One ten-week study asked a group to write down five things in a journal they were grateful for that happened in the last week  for four days a week.

A second group listed ways they were better off than others as a way to appreciate their blessings. The psychologists then looked at the medical and  psychological tests of each participant prior to the study, and then again ten weeks later.

  • Those simple gratitude exercises made those participants feel 24 percent happier.
  • But that’s not all: the students were also more optimistic about the future, felt better about their lives, slept better, felt healthier and less stressed,  were less materialistic and more likely to help others. And those results were not hard to achieve.
  • Best yet, you can help your child reap some of those results just by encouraging them to write thank yous.

While most of us agree that taking the time to write “thank yous” is a habit of gratitude we should encourage, getting many kids to actually write them –without the  whines and complaints — if often a problem.

So here are a few fun (and a bit sneaky) tricks to getting your kids to write those notes for this year’s batch of  holidays presents.  Kids can start writing cards at young ages

8 Tips to Get Kids Into the Habit of Writing Thank You Notes

1. Set expectations for gratitude
Be clear and upfront this year. Any present–regardless of the price or size–deserves a “thank you” note. If your kids hear those expectations now, they’ll be less likely to put up a battle later. Parents who raise grateful kids don’t do so by accident.

2. Keep reminding!
Keep in mind that kids may need constant reminders. “Did you remember to thank Jeff’s mom?” And don’t overlook the slips: “You can call to thank her when you get home.”

3. Enforce the “Write then play” rule
Implement one simple family rule: “You must write the thank you note first, and then you may use the gift.” Believe me, that mandate speeds up the writing process.

4. Set age appropriate guidelines
A young child can dictate his comments and only needs to sign his name. School age kids should use this rule from The Etiquette and Leadership Institute at Athens, Georgia:

“The total number of sentences in a thank you note should be half the child’s age.”

So a ten-year-old should be expected to write a minimum of five complete sentences; a six-year-old should write just three sentences.

5. Turn on kids’ creative juices
Another way to get kids more involved in the “thank you” writing process is to ask them to come up with their own unique way of thanking Grandma. A few creative “thank you” note ideas for kids might include:

  • Making a video just for that person that expresses appreciation.
  • Taking a photo of the child wearing or using the gift. The developed four-by-six inch print makes an instant postcard; the child just writes a brief note on the back and addresses and mails it. Tweens and teens can take a photo from their cell phone and send it to Grandma (along with a thoughtful message).
  • Writing the thank you on a piece of card stock and then cut it into a few pieces like a jigsaw puzzle.
  • Spelling out the thank you use M&M’s or alphabet cereal glued on a piece of cardboard.
  • Picking a flower and press it flat for a few days between wax paper arranged inside a heavy book. Once the flower is pressed send it inside a heavy piece of folded paper with a note.

6. Help imagine the emotion behind the gesture
A hard lesson for kids to learn is that they’re really thanking the person not for the gift but the thoughtfulness behind it. “Grandma thought a lot about what to give you this year.” “Mark went to five stores to try to find what would make you happiest.” Keep reinforcing the thought that went into the purchase.

7. Be the example
One final tip: Remember, your kids are watching your example. So don’t forget to write thank you notes yourself! Have you written your thank yous?

8. Thank your kids
What about thanking your kids? Don’t overlook your kids’ daily thoughtful deeds. Just be sure to tell them what they did that you appreciate so that they are more likely to copy your example and send their own “appreciation messages” to others.

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Surprising Reason for Less Screen Time and More Outdoor Play

Last updated on March 2nd, 2018 at 01:41 pm

two boys running in snowWe’ve all heard it many times…. It’s important to limit the time our kids spend looking at screens, be it smartphones, tablets, TV or computers.  In fact the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends avoiding ALL screen time for children under age 2 (no Elmo!!) and – for children and adolescents aged 3-18 (yes 18!) – limiting use of any screen device or TV to 1-2 hours per day, not counting online homework.  But we are a long way from that, with American kids spending an average of 7 hours a day watching devices and screens.

Research shows that excessive screen time is linked with attention issues and school problems, along with physical inactivity, obesity, and lack of sleep.  Even eating disorders have been associated with too much media consumption.  And, of course, access to TV and the internet can lead to early exposure to age-inappropriate content (like American Dad and other shows on Adult Swim….we’ve had that problem…).

However, we parents all know that limiting screen time is VERY, VERY DIFFICULT.  In fact, when the latest AAP policy statement was issued in 2013, an Associated Press reporter created a hash-tag that says it all: #goodluckwiththat. So if you are struggling with how much screen time is too much…here is another reason you probably never knew to get the kids off the internet…and GET THEM OUTSIDE:

A recent article in The Economist magazine highlighted the excessive level of myopia (short-sightedness – inability to see distant objects) among children in China and other East Asian countries.  Short-sightedness is 4 times higher among Chinese elementary school children than those in the US, at 40% versus 10% here.  Furthermore, levels of myopia in East Asia surge as kids move through school, with 80-90% of urban high school seniors in Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan having the condition.  Short-sightedness may seem like a benign problem, but its development can increase risk of glaucoma and retinal detachment in adulthood.

Anyone familiar with the Tiger Mom phenomenon might think this has a lot to do with the intense focus on studying and academic achievement, prized in Asian cultures – and you would be partly correct.  The article points out that up to the age of six, children in China and Australia have similar rates of myopia, but once they start school, the rates quickly diverge – in large part because of extensive studying, reading and use of electronic devices in Asia.

But that’s not the whole story.  One of the most significant drivers of this childhood eyesight issue is lack of time spent outdoors Apparently sunlight causes release of a chemical in the eye that prevents the eyeball from becoming too long (a common cause of short-sightedness), and Asian children, especially in urban settings, spend less time outside than their Western counterparts.  However, myopia is also rising significantly here in America, perhaps due to a drop in time spent playing outside. Studies in Taiwan and Denmark have shown a link between time spent outside and development of short-sightedness, with the Taiwan study showing that a move to hold recess outdoors for elementary students (rather than the country’s usual indoor approach) reduced rates of eyesight issues.

So, another – perhaps surprising – reason to push kids to get off their phones and into the great outdoors….or at least to take their textbooks and study outside on occasion (though that might need to wait until it’s a little warmer – at least around here in the Midwest).  The possibility of avoiding glasses might just be an appealing inducement for some kids!

Photo credit: Jon Rieley-GoddardCC license

Essentials to Keep Your New Baby Safe and Well

Last updated on December 22nd, 2014 at 10:31 am

Some of the most important things you’ll need when you have a new baby include enough clothes and suitable bedding.

When baby comes homeBaby clothes

Babies grow very quickly, so you’ll need to make sure your baby will have enough clothes for the first few weeks.

For example, you’ll probably need about six stretch suits (all-in-ones) for both day and night, a shawl or blanket to wrap your baby in, and suitable hats for warm and cold weather.

Baby bedding

For the first few months, you’ll need a crib, a carry cot or a Moses basket (a light, portable bassinet). Your baby needs to sleep somewhere that’s safe, warm and not too far from you.

You’ll also need a firm mattress that fits the cot snugly without leaving spaces round the edges, sheets to cover the mattress and light blankets for warmth.

Don’t use pillows and duvets – they are not safe for babies who are less than a year old because of the risk of suffocation. Duvets can also make the baby too hot.

Out and about with your baby

There are a number of things available to help you get around with your baby. For example, you may want to think about getting a baby carrier (also called a sling), a pushchair (stroller*) or pram (carriage*), and a baby car seat.

See newborn essentials for more detailed information about what you might need for your baby.

Read the answers to more questions about pregnancy.

Further information:

Editor’s Note: * translation provided for our U.S. audience 
Photo credit: Martin GommelCC license

Child Health & Safety News Roundup: 12-08-2014 to 12-14-2014

Last updated on December 22nd, 2014 at 08:33 pm

twitter thumbWelcome to Pediatric Safety’s weekly “Child Health & Safety News Roundup”- a recap of the past week’s child health and safety news headlines from around the world. Each day we use Twitter and Facebook to communicate relevant and timely health and safety information to the parents, medical professionals and other caregivers who follow us. Occasionally we may miss something, but we think overall we’re doing a pretty good job of keeping you informed. But for our friends and colleagues not on Twitter or FB (or who are but may have missed something), we offer you a recap of the past week’s top 15 events & stories.

PedSafe Child Health & Safety Headline of the Week:
Will online cookie sales put Girl Scouts at risk? http://t.co/jVvyHQ1K9n

Sensitive Santa for Special Kids: Coming to a Town Near You…

Last updated on March 18th, 2017 at 06:11 pm

autism-speaks-sensitive-santa logoBack in 2010 when I first wrote about the Sensitive Santa visiting time at some malls in Southern California it was a very new idea. I am so happy to report that now these experiences are becoming widely available around the world. Along with Sensory Friendly Films by AMC as well as concerts and plays, individuals with autism can now begin to expand their social experiences in a comfortable setting.

Gentle or Sensitive screenings and performances usually have lower sound levels because many people (of all ages) are bothered by loud music or voices. Lighting – or lack of lighting – can also be a challenge for sensory challenged folks so those levels are also adjusted. Limiting the tickets offered also controls the crowds, which can be overwhelming for folks with special needs and their caregivers.

As I write this a Google search has yielded 117 MILLION results for “sensitive santa” from places like Toronto, Arizona, Georgia, Minnesota – and those are all just on the first page!  If you are looking for one in your area, many of these events are offered through local autism groups.

The recent meeting of Pope Francis with families affected by autism has also opened up Santa for sensitive babiesthe discussion about religious practices and studies and special needs kids. In some parts of the world people who are different are treated with scorn and hidden in shame, but more modern societies are finding ways to welcome all abilities into the fold.

Whether it is visiting Santa, lighting the Menorah or gathering together to watch a holiday special or read a special book, these traditions help build relationships and create special memories for everyone involved.

Photo credit: LyraWhiteCC license

Buzzy – Because Kids Need Shots That Don’t Hurt

Last updated on August 31st, 2015 at 12:42 am

Buzzy eases the painAs a pediatrician, I strongly support vaccination. I never thought shots were a big deal; parents and staff even chuckle sometimes when a kid is freaking out about shots. You know, ‘deal with it’. I have taken care of children who died from vaccine-preventable diseases, and I used to think that any delay in shots endangers all society. Then I had my own kids, and witnessed firsthand that while vaccines don’t hurt children, shots do. Like most of the 22% of adults who fear needles, my son Max developed a phobia after a horrible shot experience at age 4. This fear affected him every time he had to go to the doctor. I gradually realized that if I didn’t act he could go through adulthood avoiding medical care.

It makes sense that being held down and subjected to more than five shots at a time could have a lifelong impact on complying with health care. When I tried to use numbing creams, one nurse said “that stuff doesn’t work, they need to get used to it”, and gave the shot outside the numb zone! I got mad at the system and myself.  If I couldn’t protect my child and I’m part of the system, what parent could? I wanted to come up with something that worked instantly that parents and patients with established needle fear could bring and use even if the healthcare system wasn’t interested.

I knew that the body could stop pain naturally using something called “gate theory”. If you bang your knee and rub it the pain stops, if you smash your finger and shake it, it helps the pain, or if you burn your finger and stick it under cold running water it quits hurting. I thought of cuffs of cold water, all sorts of messy stuff. Driving home from the hospital one day it occurred to me that vibration would block pain, but it wasn’t until my husband suggested frozen peas UNDER the vibration that it really made my kids’ hands numb to sharp pokes. And Buzzy was conceived.

Buzzy® uses natural pain relief by confusing your body’s own nerves and distracting attention away from the poke, thereby dulling or eliminating sharp pain. Over the past 5 years my children helped test, build, and prototype Buzzy until we had a device that worked. They smashed cell phones, helped me use electric tape and elastic bands, and have served as my first and best advisors. We started with a hand held massager and frozen peas, and finally got to a cute bee with frozen wings.

From a scientific standpoint, I didn’t want to put it out there unless I knew it worked for other people as well as my kids. The Mayday Fund, a nonprofit dedicated to the reduction of pain and suffering, sponsored Georgia State to do a research study in adult volunteers getting IVs inserted.  Buzzy significantly decreased pain, and was more effective the more anxiety people already had. A trial in children needing IV starts in the emergency department also showed significantly decreased pain by child and parent report, and even increased IV success threefold. On the basis of this, we got a $1M grant from the National Institutes of Health to study whether Buzzy reduces the pain of immunizations, and hopefully can avoid the development of needle phobia.

How important is this?? Although needle pain from a shot may not seem like a big deal, needle sticks are the most common and most feared cause of medical pain in the world. Blood donation, preventative health care, and diagnosing serious illnesses like cancer are all impacted by fearing doctors and needles. Conversely, awareness and use of available pain control methods for children can result in years of improved health.  Buzzy® is now being used for dentistry, travel immunizations, fertility shots, and finger pricks, splinter removal, and flu injections!

We’ve heard from parents who had considered stopping more effective injected or IV treatments due to needle fear who are now able to give their kids the best treatment due to Buzzy. We’ve even heard from kids… stories and letters that remind us that Needle Pain Matters…and because of that, so does Buzzy.


Before a shot:

My area of research is pain control, so I hear a lot of stories about drama at the doctor’s. For young children, pain is punishment and scary, so addressing fear is an important first step to making shots less of a big deal. Children are less fearful when they know what’s happening and feel in control. Sadly, there are no global answers, but there are some general tricks of the trade you can try.

  • When asked “am I going to get a shot?” focus on the benefit. “Yes, they have medicine that keeps you healthy.”
  • NEVER promise they won’t get a shot unless you intend to follow through and come back another time if they’re due for one
  • NEVER threaten with a shot if children don’t behave (establishing a needle as punishment or you as untrustworthy will guarantee a bad experience).
  • If the child’s question is, “Is it going to hurt?”, avoid using the words pain or hurt. Instead, use the word “bother”, and answer this way: “Actually, a lot of kids aren’t that bothered by shots. Before you get them, I’ll show you how we will make getting them not a big deal.”
  • If they’ve had a bad experience in the past, say “I found out about some new cool things we can do to make them much more comfortable.”

And now – the shot:

  • First, relieving kids’ distress begins with you. The best combination is warm but firm. No apologizing, empathizing, or letting them “just go to the bathroom real quick.” Instead, use praise, “I know you can do this”, and direct them to pay attention to non-shot related things before they get anxious. “Oh, look, SpongeBob.”
  • Second, the person giving the shots. These are research-proven things that make shots hurt less:
    • Give the least painful shot first
    • Give the shots sitting up in the arm after age 18 months
    • Use a slower push
    • Use a longer needle
    • Use “position of comfort”: facing you on your lap, or with your arm around the child if they are older and receiving shots sitting up. Being held flat is the most vulnerable positing you can be in; much better if 4-6 year olds can straddle your lap facing you and get shots while you hug them.
  • Third, to help overcome established needle-phobia:
    • There are creams (over the counter LMX-4, Ferndale Labs) which can be applied 20 minutes in advance, or prescription EMLA (Astra-Zeneca) which needs at least an hour. Be sure they’re placed correctly, and know that they only numb the surface. Never promise complete pain relief. Instead, try “these will help a LOT!”
    • Studies show that appropriate distraction decreases distress. While the nurse is getting the injections, let a child choose from multiple visual games or tasks to focus elsewhere during the shot. “Do you want me to read to you, or give you things to find?” Be prepared to pick if they’re indecisive. “You know what I think would be good? Let’s do this…”  Bee-Stractors Emergency Entertainment cards can be kept in a purse or glove compartment for situations when you forget to plan ahead.
    • Tasks that include a sensation also help focus attention away from the poke: for example, tell your child to count zigzags as you scratch the edge of a fingernail on their arm. Tell the child to yell “now!” when a fingernail gets to the elbow or wrist. For multiple shots or a seriously anxious child, bring an ice pack or vibrating toy to touch other body parts and have the child name the body part touched by ice. “Knee! Leg! Nose!” Even better, touch them with an ice pop and 5 right answers wins the pop!
    • And speaking of ice packs, studies have shown that putting an ice cube on the site before a shot can decrease the pain. Adding an element of vibration during the poke can help as well, like when a dentist wiggles your lip during Novocaine. This is the breakthrough of Buzzy, but you can achieve the same results with any vibration/solid ice pack combination. For best results, let the child feel the sensations beforehand by scratching the arm under the ice pack/vibration source. “See how cold this is, and see how now you can’t feel so much any more?” Seeing for themselves and agreeing with you helps the child feel in control.

Whatever happens, praise how they did!


Editor’s Note:  Flu season is upon us – and The Old Farmer’s Almanac predicts that this winter will be another arctic blast with above-normal snowfall throughout much of the nation. So what comes to mind? ..stock up on chicken soup …and warm blankets …and get your flu shot.  And that made us think of Dr. Amy Baxter and her amazing invention: Buzzy.  Because even though we first ran this post in 2011, what she has to say is as true today as it was then.  Shots hurt…and they shouldn’t…and with Buzzy, they don’t have to.  Enjoy!