Sit up straight! Don’t talk with your mouth full! Elbows off the table! USE YOUR MANNERS!
Love my grandma as I did, there were times where you could have confused her for a drill sergeant. She was pretty no-nonsense when it came to trying to teach proper manners. One time when I was staying at her house, she even clipped a newspaper article – about the importance of writing thank-you notes after receiving a gift – and pinned it to the mirror in my room.
Now Grandma wasn’t necessarily wrong in what she was trying to pass on to me about etiquette, but the way she was doing it left something to be desired. Etiquette for children and teenagers can be a tough sell. If you nag too much, you start sounding like the teacher from the Peanuts cartoons (“wah wah”) and they tune you out.
The secret is to show them positive things about etiquette in a positive way, and how that gets positive results.
For instance, I absolutely love how a mom I know teaches her daughter about international cultures and the etiquette that goes along with it. Once a month, the family has ‘international’ night at home. They do research ahead of time on customs and cuisine, and then cook an authentic meal and eat it in an authentic fashion. For their Japan night, they even ate sitting on cushions on the floor. They have a great time and learn a lot along the way. Now when they travel, the little girl loves to put her knowledge into practice – she showed off her skills with chopsticks the last time they went to China!
I’m thrilled that a group of pro-active parents have contacted me to teach their 12 year old girls social etiquette. We’ve come up with a plan to allow the tweens to host an end of the year class party. During our session, we’ll break down the process of planning an event. That includes a guest list and invitations, and planning the food and beverages. We’ll also discuss how to be a good host and how to be a good guest at a party. Then there’s talking about the day of the party itself, and issues like being considerate of others – by keeping the music to a reasonable volume level, for example. Then the girls will go and put their plan into action. It will be hands-on, and so much more fun and memorable than simply reading about party planning on the Internet.
There are lots of ways to teach etiquette on a daily basis and with specific scenarios.
Keep it fun and funny
ItÕs no big deal if a glass of water gets spilled at the dinner table at home, because it should be a safe space to practice manners and get young people ready to dine out in public. Turn it into a teachable moment – what should a good host do if someone spills? Is there a better way to do things in future?
Make it memorable
Lessons stick better if there’s something actually worthwhile to remember. Turn learning something new into an experience with special food or getting dressed up, and your children will remember the relevant etiquette points as well.
Give them a chance to use what they’re learning
It’s important not to just keep talking and talking about kids doing something, and then not allow them to do it independently. For instance, if you’ve been working on having your children say thank you, don’t jump in right away and tell them to say it. In their next interaction with someone, hang back and wait to see if they will say thank you on their own. The smile and praise they will get from someone else will reinforce what you’ve been teaching.
Done correctly, learning etiquette can be a fun and ongoing life-long process. I wasn’t ready for the lesson about thank-you notes for presents when my grandma gave it, and that newspaper article wasn’t the right way to impart that information. But because of some additional learning about etiquette when I was older, I never fail to write the notes now. Thank you Grandma.