“Good manners are the technique of expressing consideration for the feelings of others.” —Alice Duer Miller
Good manners do more than make children pleasant to have around; they equip your kids to face varied social situations successfully. But instilling good manners has always been a challenge. Here’s what Socrates said regarding the young people of Athens in 500 B.C.
Youth today loves luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority, no respect for older people, and talk nonsense when they should work. Young people do not stand up any longer when adults enter the room. They contradict their parents, talk too much in company, guzzle their food, lay their legs on the table, and tyrannize their elders.
Summertime is a good time to work on manners and teach children essential lessons for getting along in the world. Remember to avoid nagging—be gentle and consistent instead. And don’t forget to affirm kids whenever they get it right!
Practice good introduction manners:
- Teach your child to stand and shake hands with adults when meeting them for the first time.
- Teach your child to say “Excuse me?” if she doesn’t hear what someone is saying.
- Make sure your children arrive on time at special occasions and activities. Instruct them to call a host if lateness is unavoidable.
- Teach your child to be sensitive to the loner at a party, to invite him or her to participate or to talk.
- Instruct your child to offer kitchen help, to keep his belongings organized, and to tidy up the bathroom when visiting another child’s home.
- Be sure your child says “Thank you” after visiting someone.
- If the visit was special in some way, or lasted longer than a night, work with your child on a thank-you note to mail the hosts.
Mealtime etiquette is important. Teach kids to:
- Sit up straight.
- Be quiet—don’t drag your chair across the floor or bang silverware against your plate.
- Keep a napkin in your lap, and don’t forget to use it.
- Keep chair legs on the floor.
- If the family you’re visiting says grace, follow their custom.
- Pass condiments around, not across, the table.
- Don’t start eating until everyone has been served.
- Ask the person closest to what you want to “please pass” it. Thank him or her for doing so.
- Take small portions. Help yourself to seconds after everyone has been served.
- Take what you’re offered. If you don’t like something, politely say “No, thank you” or take a very small portion.
- Eat slowly. Put down your spoon or fork between bites.
- Chew with your mouth closed.
- Talk only after you’ve swallowed your food.
- Take small bites.
- Swallow food before taking a drink.
- If food is stuck in your teeth, remove it privately after the meal.
- Keep elbows and arms off of the table.
- Ask to be excused when the meal is over.
To help teach my boys manners one summer, I initiated the “Swine Fine” rule. Before I found the perfect piggy bank to suit my purposes, I painted a picture of a pig on the top of a white plastic bucket and put it on my kitchen counter. Whenever one of the boys behaved disrespectfully toward a family member or exhibited poor manners, I called out “Swine fine!” He was required to deposit a designated amount of change (which I got to keep) in my bucket. For total buy-in into your program, let your kids create a bank or bucket and call “Swine fine” on Mom and Dad, too!
Summertime patriotic holidays—Memorial Day, Flag Day and July the Fourth—provide a natural opportunity to teach children flag etiquette. Even young children can be taught that our flag is special, and we treat it with respect. The National Flag Foundation lists some simple rules for honoring our flag.
• You can wear a T-shirt showing a flag; do not wear clothes made of flags.
• Do not wear pants or use towels bearing flags—the flag should not be sat upon.
• Raise a flag in a lively manner; lower it slowly.
• Don’t create a flag motif on a lawn or football field, where feet can step on it.
• Don’t hang a flag at night unless you can illuminate it.
• Don’t display a flag during snow, rain, or other storms unless it is weatherproof.
• Hung vertically, the star-studded section should be in observers’ top left corner.
Taken from The Family Manager's Guide to Summer Survival by Kathy Peel. Copyright (c) 2006 Kathy Peel. Used with permission of Fair Winds Press, a member of Quayside Publishing Group. All rights reserved.