Ways to Teach your Children Good Manners
Parents can practice and model good manners with children of every age.
A beautiful festive meal served to elbows on the table and chewed with open mouths? Carols sung ‘round the family piano interrupted by that all too familiar ring tone? The holiday season practically begs for the opportunity to work on manners with our children. Far from being an outmoded, stuffy convention of the upper classes, good manners work to make everyone feel more comfortable and relaxed in a social situation.
Can your little one currently be best classified as a tiny Neanderthal? You needn’t stress in advance of the holidays, say area etiquette experts. With a bit of preparation and clear communication of expectations, even the littlest holiday party guests can charm with their good manners. We asked these local Mr. and Ms. Manners to weigh in on common pitfalls and provide some guidance so we can put the focus on making happy memories with our families, not whether Junior is picking up the wrong fork.
Put Away That Phone
The number one concern for etiquette professionals is young peoples’ (over) use of technology. “Kids are losing the ability to socially communicate because of cell phones,” says Kurt Claxton, director of Tulsa Cotillion. Namely, texting and interacting via social networking sites have translated into a generational inability to interact with social grace.
“Technology certainly has its place and it’s changed the world in which we live,” says Jana Christian, operator of The Etiquette School of Oklahoma. “It’s a wonderful tool but, as a tool, it must be used correctly.”
With the ubiquity of screens – even carried in our pockets – manners gurus say there are certain places a phone or tablet should never make an appearance. At the top of that list? The dinner table. “There is no sacred boundary of personal or family time,” Christian bemoans. “People need to be aware of putting those phones away.”
That means when you’re heading to holiday gatherings, both parents and their kids should leave their phones on silent – or better yet – turned off, and tablets or game consoles at home.
If you’re visiting a friend’s home or having a friend to yours, don’t be on the phone, Christian says, because you are sending the message that “you’re not that important as a friend.” If you really must take a call or text, Christian suggests stepping at least 10 feet away to respond quickly. “That was the wonderful thing about phone booths,” she reminisces. “You had privacy!”
Be a Considerate Guest; A Gracious Host
The biggest part of being a good guest is understanding what is acceptable in a given situation,” Christian says. Teach children that it’s bad manners for guests to go into a host‘s refrigerator without asking, to put their feet on a sofa, or make comments about disliking food options. Likewise, when your family is hosting, you can explain to your child that hospitality is the art of making someone feel welcome in your home, she adds. To that end, “take time to chat with Aunt Susie, even though she’s 85,” Christian counsels. “Put away the game boys and tablets and play with other children and cherish the time with those we call family and friends.” Parents might even suggest some conversation starters for children to ease social anxiety.
Shirley Skulman, co-director of Tulsa Junior Cotillion, believes that even the youngest children can display good manners as party guests or hosts. She’s provided some age-appropriate preparations parents can undertake with their kids to lessen the social stress that naturally accompanies the coming onslaught of holiday gatherings.
Preschoolers: Preschoolers want to make mom and dad proud, Skulman notes. So to capitalize on that, let children know of your expectations well in advance, and remind them as an event nears. Preschoolers can be taught to sit on a chair on their bottom with legs in front. A happy consequence of this is that when a child is sitting correctly less accidents and spills happen, Skulman says. A practice dinner using a fork and concentrating on chewing with a closed mouth is a good idea.
Elementary Age: Young, school-aged children can help in preparing for an event. Have them set the table, make a centerpiece or even help with food prep, Skulman suggests. If there will be other children in attendance, she suggests a great way to engage your child is to have him come up with activities to keep all the other young guests busy during the party and “away from electronic devices,” she adds.
Middle School Age: With the growing maturity of an older child, Skulman suggests giving your tween information on other partygoers that will peak their interest, perhaps an interesting occupation or a family story the young person might pursue. At this age, “they may not want to, but they can display very good table manners,” she notes. Have your child sit down to a practice dinner and work on more sophisticated skills such as napkin placement.
High Schoolers: A teenager can be a big help if you are hosting a party at your home, Skulman says. They can be asked to assist in parking cars or greeting people at the door, fixing (non-alcoholic) drinks, hanging up coats and helping people get acquainted with what is going on in the home.
Mind Your P’s and Q’s
Remember, “no matter where you have your holiday dinner — at a fast food restaurant, in front of the TV watching football or at a fancy dinner event, you can always use good manners!” Skulman says.
And Claxton advises that you tell your children that “people may not notice if you have good manners, but they will certainly notice if your manners are bad.”
Top tips for enjoying holiday social gatherings with your children:
- RSVPs are not optional, even for casual gatherings or open houses.
- A verbal thank-you for a gift is fine, but it does not take the place of a handwritten note. The youngest children can even draw a picture to express gratitude.
- Hold a practice dinner covering basic table manners well in advance of an event.
- And the number one tip (and this goes for parents as well as their kids) – put away the phone!