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Should kids write thank-you cards for holiday gifts?

Sasha Emmons and Chad Sapieha | posted Thursday, Dec 10th, 2015

“Yes”
Sasha Emmons, Mom of two

Ah, the holidays. A time of peace on Earth, good will toward men…and total, unmitigated greed. I love hanging with family and having an excuse to eat cookies, but I could do without the raging case of the gimmes my kids, Chloe, 10, and Julian, 6, come down with every single year, as toy catalogues and TV ads convince them the big guy in red’s there to shower them with whatever their hearts desire. And that’s just the Santa gifts. As the only little kids on my husband’s side of the family, by Christmas morning they’re drowning in packages from relatives.

The antidote to all this stuff-itis is to make them write thank-you notes. Shopping for, wrapping and delivering a present requires effort, and I think it should be acknowledged with a little effort in return. My family is spread across the US, and in some cases this gift and note exchange is the kids’ only tangible touch point with far-flung relatives. I know it’s a bit schoolmarmish of me to cling to this old-fashioned custom, but in this screen-centric world, where it’s hard to get kids to look up long enough to even have a conversation, I worry about my kids losing old-school manners. And recognizing thoughtfulness never goes out of style.

Now before you let years of unwritten thank-you notes haunt you, know that I’m right there with you. We start strong, ticking names off the list and signing adorably scrawly signatures. But a few notes in, the kids and I start to butt heads. They hate sitting and thinking of what to say, and I hate sitting and making them do it. Before long, we’ve lost the list of who gave what, and too much time has passed for my feeble mom brain to piece it back together. (To anyone reading this who’s owed a thank-you note, I want you to know we loved the gift and appreciate you thinking of us.)

So should kids write thank-you notes? Yes. Do mine? A few make it into the post and hopefully make someone’s day. And this year I’ll be asking Santa to give me and them the perseverance to finish them all.

“No”
Chad Sapieha, Dad of one

My wife, Kristy, is a wonderful woman with boundless social grace and the best of intentions. So it came as no surprise when she decided a few years ago that our daughter, then around four or five, ought to send a thank-you card for every Christmas gift she received. Kristy purchased multiple packages of cute cards upon which our little girl was to scrawl her name and whatever semblance of gratefulness she might manage.

This proved challenging. We have a ton of friends and family, so our daughter receives a lot of gifts. Writing notes of thanks for all of them is time-consuming. Getting our daughter to do it required multiple sessions over several days, each one an exercise in frustration.

It hasn’t gotten any easier. Turns out fourth graders have as little interest in sitting down for an hour to write polite missives as kindergartners do. Go figure.

But Kristy refuses to give up. Each year she buys more cards. And each spring, I reach to the bottom of our overflowing stationary basket, grab the oldest cards and dump them into the recycling bin. It’s like tossing last week’s produce to make room for the new: expensive and wasteful.

Look, thank-you cards are wonderful in principle. They teach kids to express gratitude and they help improve their penmanship. But they’re just not practical. Why not just text the gift giver a picture of your kid opening the present? Better still, Skype or FaceTime the moment. These alternatives are quicker, cheaper and more memorable.

The simple truth is that you can’t dictate gratitude. When you receive a thank-you card from a kid, you have no idea if he was actually grateful. Reading the note, you probably don’t think, What a thoughtful and considerate child! You think, What thoughtful and considerate parents.

I’m not into these social shenanigans. I’d rather spend the time wasted on thank-you cards building a Boxing Day snowman with my daughter.

A version of this article appeared in our December 2015 issue with the headline “Should kids write thank-you cards for holiday gifts?” p. 104.

Read more:
How to raise an appreciative child>
Teach your kids to appear grateful (even if they aren’t)>
How to avoid spoiling kids at Christmas>

Holiday calendar: 31 festive activities

Laura Grande | posted Thursday, Dec 3rd, 2015

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December 1: Bring out your advent calendars and deck the halls of your house!

December 2: Have a “crafternoon” making our winter wreath and holiday garland.

December 3: Mail letters to Santa nice and early to ensure he has enough time to respond!

December 4: Start making (and freezing) those early batches of holiday cookies.

December 5: Find a local toy drive and make a holiday donation!

December 6: Today marks the start of Hanukkah. Make our easy DIY menorah.

December 7: Decorate the outside of your house and warm up afterwards with hot chocolate.

December 8: Bake (and decorate!) a gingerbread house!

December 9: Choose the perfect Christmas tree and decorate it!

December 10: Watch a holiday flick with the family.

December 11: Stay on budget! Make sure you’re tracking all your holiday purchases.

December 12: After dinner, bundle up the family and go for a mini-hike.

December 13: Get your Christmas cards written and stamped.

December 14: Hop in the car or go for a walk and take a Christmas-light tour with your family. Hanukkah ends.

December 15: Get your kids feeling festive by making your own holiday wrapping paper.

December 16: Schedule a date night with your partner before the holiday madness kicks in.

December 17: Today is the cut-off for out-of-province holiday mail delivery.

December 18: Go skating!

December 19: Take some “me time” today, even if just for an hour.

December 20: Have a screen-free evening. Read your family’s favourite holiday books.

December 21: Today is the cut-off for local holiday mail delivery.

December 22: Schedule a date night with your partner before the holiday madness kicks in.

December 23: Take a deep breath (and avoid the mall!). The Christmas madness is about to begin!

December 24: Put on a holiday playlist, hang up those stockings and listen for Santa’s sleigh.

December 25: Merry Christmas!

December 26: Boxing Day. Kwanzaa begins.

December 27: Play your favourite board game!

December 28: Declare today National Pajama Day. Play games, watch movies and stay cozy in your PJs!

December 29: For those eager to get their house back to normal, set some time aside to start taking down Christmas decor.

December 30: Make your New Year’s resolution and stock up on anything you need, the stores will be crazy tomorrow.

December 31: Prepare to ring in the new year! Host a family-style NYE bash.

Read more:
10 tips for baking with kids
Craft: No-sew Advent calendar
3 tips to getting a great picture with Santa

8 recipes for turkey leftovers

Today's Parent | posted Tuesday, Oct 13th, 2015

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The exhausted parent’s guide to the election

Kathryn Hayward | posted Tuesday, Oct 6th, 2015

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Your partner has to work late—again. You’ve managed to cobble together a reasonable facsimile of dinner, but the babyis crying in her high chair, your preschooler is feeding his broccoli to the dog and there’s a knock on the door. It’s one of your local candidates. Who has time to talk or read the pamphlets? Fear not: Here’s a crash course on the key issues so you can cram in time for voting day on October 19.

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Child care

Child care has emerged as one of the main talking points in the election, as the parties have taken fairly different stances on this issue that’s near and dear to the 3.8 million families with children in Canada. Quality daycare is expensive—in Toronto, for instance, full-time infant care can run upwards of $1,600 per child a month. The NDP have thrown down the gauntlet with their $15-a-day plan.

CONSERVATIVES: Earlier this year, the Conservatives expanded the Universal Child Care Benefit. It now pays $160 per month for each child under the age of six and $60 per month for kids ages six to 17 (this money is taxable). They increased the Child Care Expenses Deduction under the Income Tax Act by $1,000. They have no plans for a national child care program (they say they don’t want to tell you how to spend your money).

LIBERALS: They would replace the Universal Child Care Benefit with a new Canada Child Tax Benefit that would give more money to families whose combined income is less than $150,000 (for example, a two-parent household with two kids and an income of $90,000 would receive $490 tax-free a month). While they have no explicit plans for a national child care program, they have proposed a 10-year, $20-billion social infrastructure fund that would include funding for daycare. There’s also a proposal to make parental leaves more flexible, allowing longer leaves (up to 18 months) at a lower pay level.

NDP: The New Democrats promise to create or maintain one million daycare spaces over the next eight years. The fees would be capped at $15 a day (so daycare would cost less than $350 a month). The plan would cost $1.9 billion, to be shared 60/40 between Ottawa and the provinces and territories. “Lots of parents would like affordable, accessible quality child care, and the lack of it means that women are often stuck making very tough decisions about their careers,” Thomas Mulcair told Today’s Parent. They would keep the Universal Child Care Benefit to help parents who don’t use daycare.

GREEN PARTY: They propose the creation of a universal child care program. The program would encourage incorporating child care at workplaces by adding a tax break for employers who offer daycare spaces. “Certainly, there is a lot of good empirical data that workplace productivity increases dramatically and quality time goes up when child care is in the same place where you go to work,” Green Party leader Elizabeth May told Today’s Parent. They support transferring more money to the provinces to increase the number of child care spaces available for at least 70 percent of children ages six and younger. They would also cancel the Universal Child Care Benefit.

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ECONOMY

What’s the best way to make the economy grow: government spending or tax cuts? The Liberals are taking a different tack from the Conservatives and NDP. One thing is certain: Money talks. The economy has been one of the most fiercely debated points in the campaign.

CONSERVATIVES: Their platform is largely about balancing the budget, and they’re bullish about the economy—if we stay the course. As Stephen Harper told Today’s Parent, “If we stay on the path that we’re on, there’s really not going to be a better place in the world to be than Canada for economic opportunity for young people.” They would keep current tax credits, like children’s fitness and public transit, and have promised to pass a “tax lock” law that prohibits increases to federal income tax, sales tax and discretionary payroll taxes for the next four years. Their income-splitting policy allows a higher-earning spouse to transfer up to $50,000 of income to the lower-earning spouse, which can net a tax credit worth up to $2,000. They’ve pledged enhancements to registered education savings plans, which would double the federal grant for low- and middle-income families.

LIBERALS: The party wants to ease the burden of the middle class. They plan to place “more money in the pockets of parents who need it every month, with a tax break that we are going to pay for by having the wealthiest pay a little more in taxes,” Justin Trudeau told Today’s Parent. Specifically, they would lower the tax rate on income between $44,700 and $89,401 by 1.5 percent to 20.5 percent and raise it for individuals earning more than $200,000. They’re also willing to go into a deficit to help boost the economy by investing in infrastructure programs. They plan to eliminate income splitting—they say it favours two-parent households and disproportionately helps people who don’t need help nearly as much as others do.

NDP: Mulcair has said that the first NDP budget will be a balanced budget. They have promised to lower taxes for small businesses and raise corporate tax rates. As for income splitting, they would scrap it, choosing to invest that money in middle-class families instead.

GREEN PARTY: To address poverty and a widening income gap, the party would implement a Guaranteed Livable Income. They would replace several social security programs to establish a minimum income. In terms of the budget, May says, “It’s preferable, of course, to live within your means, but we are not ideologically wedded to always balancing the budget.” The party would also eliminate income splitting, reduce taxes for small businesses and raise the corporate tax rate. They also pledge to create a national pharmacare program and cover dental costs for low-income youth.

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Crime

Overall police-reported crime has been falling for more than 20 years. In fact, in 2013, Statistics Canada reported that the country had experienced the lowest crime rate since 1969. It doesn’t mean, however, that we feel safer.

CONSERVATIVES: Over the years, the party has maintained a tough-on-crime approach. Firmly against the decriminalization of marijuana, they’ve pledged $4.5 million to crack down on grow ops and promised to launch a hotline for parents concerned about their kids using drugs. Their signature legislation, the controversial Bill C-51, which passed in June, increases the powers of the police and CSIS to conduct expanded surveillance, share information between different agencies and arrest without a warrant for suspected terrorist activities.

LIBERALS: The party supports mandatory minimum sentences for serious and violent offences. They are in favour of legalizing and regulating marijuana (arguing regulation makes it harder for kids to access it and takes profits away from organized crime). The party supported Bill C-51 but plans to implement greater oversight of security agencies.

NDP: The party has pledged to hire 2,500 more police officers across the country. They’ve called for an increase in restorative justice. As well, they’d strengthen rules for sentencing dangerous offenders. On the pot issue, they call for decriminalization but not full legalization.

GREEN PARTY: In their platform, the Greens argue it’s time to legalize the adult use of marijuana. In addition, they call for increased funding to safe-injection sites, treatment facilities and addict rehabilitation. They would like greater oversight of agencies involved in counterterrorism measures.

HealthyPlanet_Oliver

Environment

Canada has an abysmal record on the environment. In a recent report that compared 61 countries on their climate policies, renewable energy and efforts to combat greenhouse gas emissions, we ranked very, very low—just ahead of Kazakhstan and Saudi Arabia.

CONSERVATIVES: This spring, the party pledged to ambitiously cut emissions to 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 (it’s a bold promise given that we haven’t been able to meet previous targets). They are strongly in favour of building gas pipelines to get oil from the tar sands to refineries and port. As well, they’d like to promote angling and hunting tourism and would work to improve the habitats of key species harvested by hunters and trappers.

LIBERALS: Trudeau has said he’ll work with the provinces to develop a national framework for putting a price on carbon. The party promises to invest $200 million to support innovation and clean technology in forestry, fisheries, mining, energy and agriculture. They will increase protected marine and coastal areas by 10 percent over the next five years, and they promise to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies. The party opposes the Northern Gateway pipeline but supports the Keystone XL pipeline.

NDP: The party plans to eliminate subsidies to the fossil fuel industry and create a cap-and-trade system, which would put a market price on carbon (they wouldn’t, however, impose a system on provinces that already have a carbon strategy). They’d reinvest any money generated into green energy. While they support the Energy East pipeline from the oil sands to eastern Canada, the party opposes the Keystone XL and Northern Gateway pipelines. Mulcair has also vowed to strengthen laws to protect our lakes and rivers.

GREEN PARTY: The party wants to halt the use of fossil fuels by mid-century, including a rapid phase-out of coal-fired plants. They oppose all pipeline plans and would make all carbon fuels subject to a carbon fee. “If we approach addressing the climate problem aggressively, that’s a way to stimulate the economy and avoid a recession,” May toldToday’s Parent.

Read more:
Today’s Parent interviews Prime Minister Stephen Harper>
Today’s Parent interviews Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau>
Today’s Parent interviews NDP leader Thomas Mulcair>

Today’s Parent interviews Green Party leader Elizabeth May>

8 lunch recipes for kids who hate sandwiches

Today's Parent | posted Thursday, Sep 24th, 2015

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Have a kid who has an aversion to anything with bread (and wraps too)? Pack up one of these yummy recipes for her school lunch.

5 ways to beat back-to-school anxiety

Today's Parent | posted Tuesday, Sep 8th, 2015

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10 healthy school lunch ideas

Today's Parent | posted Tuesday, Aug 25th, 2015

Snack

This lunch combines two of kids’ loves: waffles and bacon for one surprising sandwich. When packing, place pieces of waxed paper or foil between all layers to keep them fresh and wrap sandwich in parchment. Pack mayo separately in its own mini squirt bottle. Before eating, remove waxed paper or foil and squirt mayo onto waffle.

Get the recipe: BLT Waffle-Wich> 

Bet you didn’t know how easy it is to make your own fruit leather. With only four simple ingredients, this one is more nutritious and super fun to pack.

Get the recipe: Blueberry-Apple Fruit Leather>

For more healthy school lunch ideas click here.

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