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Teaching Children the Art of Correspondence

Condolence Letters

A parent of your child's close friend has died. Even if your child has attended the funeral, sent flowers, visited, or telephoned, a condolence letter is a must. A commercial sympathy card will not do. Remember that condolence letters are comforting and diverting for those who have suffered a loss. Sometimes they become part of the family history to be passed down through the generations.

The letter should be written in ink with a fountain pen if possible. Try to use black ink. If the child's handwriting is hard to read, it is all right to have the letter typed and signed in ink.

The condolence letter should not be a formal, formula letter; it should be written from the heart. Your child can begin by acknowledging the friend's loss and saying that he or she feels sad about it. The condolence letter is the place to recall the special characteristics of the deceased, visits to your home, lessons learned from that person, good times shared. Such reminiscences celebrate the life of the deceased rather than being morbid and depressing about the loss.

Above all, don't spend all your time saying how upset you are. The person who receives it might think you are the one who should be getting the condolence letter.

Love Letters

Watch out. You never know who will end up reading love letters. Keep them newsy on the surface. Your feelings will come through in the style and tone of your letter.

A good rule of thumb is that the best love letters are written in the sand.


Translation: Respond if you please. And, please, respond promptly.

A telephone number on the invitation absolves you from writing. So does “Regrets Only.” However, if you were planning a party, wouldn't you like to get a note saying your guest is pleased to be invited and looks forward to coming?

If you can't attend, let the host know the reason you can't be there. If you accept, do your best to honor your commitment.

Schools no longer teach etiquette, and charm school is something rarely heard of these days. So, basically, it's up to parents to first convince their children that courtesy is crucial and, second, to teach them the rules of courtesy—also called etiquette. If parents don't do it, children must learn by offending people and suffering the consequences. We learn by watching the behavior of others.

More on: Manners


Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Etiquette © 2004 by Mary Mitchell. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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