When most of today’s parents were children, they were taught to say “please” and “thank you,” keep their elbows off the table, write thank-you notes and speak with respect to adults.
However, somewhere around the 1960’s young people were encouraged to “do your own thing,” which seemed to include throwing out the P’s and Q’s of good etiquette. The result of that good attitude seems to be the socially inadequate group of young adults and children today.
But are manners really all that important in the ’90s? Consideration of others, which is the key to good manners, is always important. Major corporations are even recognizing the importance of manners and etiquette in the business world and are paying for classes for their employees.
Webster’s dictionary defines etiquette as “behavior required by good breeding.” Good manners don’t necessarily imply superficial snobbery and stuffy formality, though. But, by instilling a code of good conduct in our children, we will help them deal with social situations beginning as youngsters and for the rest of their lives. When kids know what is expected of them in a social education, they are more self-confident and relaxed.
Alexandra Stoddard, author of several books on etiquette including Gift of a Letter, suggests that “Manners are liberating. Once you learn them, you never have to think about how to act. They become second nature.”
Polite children are admired and praised and liked by adults while parents are embarrassed by ill-behaved children, especially when the disrespectful children are their own. But often parents don’t know how to teach manners to their children, in particular, if the parents themselves are unsure of correct etiquette. The best teacher is a good example. Children are mirrors of what they see their parents doing. It’s not important that every etiquette rule be followed to the “T” at home, but good manners should be evident in every situation.
Peggy Middendorf is a freelance writer and mother.
- Teach kids the proper use of utensils including the sugar spoon and butter knife. Let them know when it is acceptable to eat with their fingers.
- Wait to begin eating until the host and hostess start.
- Keep elbows off the table and the napkin on the lap.
- Children should ask to be excused when finished at the table.
- Let your child place his own order at a restaurant.
- No talking with the mouth full, noisy sipping, loud talking, nose blowing or belching at the table.
Basic Social Graces
- Teach children the basics of introductions, i.e., “Mrs. Sims, may I introduce my friend, Jimmy. Jimmy, Mrs. Sims.”
- “Please,” “thank you” and “excuse me” haven’t gone out of style. Neither has “Yes, Ma’am” or “No, Sir.”
- Children show respect for adults and elders by referring to them as Mr. or Mrs., and also by opening doors, offering chairs, etc.
- Children can show respect for others by knocking before entering a room and respecting the privacy of others.
- Kids need to learn the art of conversation. General rules include turning off the TV when a guest arrives, establishing eye contact with each person, including everyone in the conversation, avoiding slang and not interrupting or monopolizing a conversation.
- Kids should watch their body language. No slouching, yawning or involving themselves in another activity when conversation is taking place at the table.