I LOVE the holidays. I love decorating, cooking, baking, enjoying a beautiful fire on a rainy evening, and the smell of cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg throughout the house. Whether you are sharing Thanksgiving dinner in your home or elsewhere, hosting a glitzy cocktail party for Christmas, or just relaxing in the warmth and blessings of your home, your children will most likely be taking part in one or more of these events and past times.
It is important to begin instilling the value of good manners and proper etiquette at an early age so that each passing year, not only are you proud to have your children with you on these occasions, but you will never tire of hearing the compliments and kudos you receive about your child’s “good manners”. Teaching children on a daily basis that their manners are a reflection of themselves…and their parents or guardians, is how we manage civility in a sometimes restless world.
I think there was a time….long long ago….when one heard only about children with “bad manners and deplorable behavior”. That is because most children behaved well…or else! I find that in today’s times, people are almost surprised when they see a child with excellent table manners in a restaurant, or a tween that gives you a firm handshake and makes eye contact with you while expressing his pleasure with meeting you; a rarity indeed.
At the Magnolia School of Etiquette, we teach everything from proper introductions, eye contact and handshakes, formal table settings, grooming and deportment, health and hygiene, ordering from a menu, napkins and place settings, sportsmanship and personal development to honorifics, communication skills, etiquette in public places and being a guest in someone’s home.
Children as young as four and five years old are very capable of setting a proper table, using their utensils with dexterity, chewing with their mouth closed, keeping their elbows off the table, placing their napkins in their laps, and even raising their glass of juice or water to toast their wonderful parents. It is truly just a matter of repetition and frequency. Much like advertising, the more you see and hear something, the more ingrained it becomes…and certainly, the more you practice anything, the better you are at the performance.
Dining and social graces are a learned behavior, but also a performance of sorts and I am confident that most children “love to perform” if given the stage. With the holidays approaching, you will want to get a head start on preparing your child for what is expected of him or her during these special occasions.
If the holiday event will be in your home, involve the children in setting the table, putting out decorations, making a place setting craft such as a glittered mini pine-cone with name tag attached by thread for the Christmas table. Have a practice session prior to the big day over an evening dinner by going over some of the most basic table manners, as mentioned above. Holding one’s knife and fork properly for the younger children might seem impossible at first, but if you keep changing the position of the hands and telling them to hold it more “like you hold a pencil”, they will develop the proper American style of dining and gain confidence in their abilities. There is no reason a child over the age of three should be holding his or her fork like cave man’s club and it is much easier to break that habit sooner rather than later.
Should your holiday travels take you to the comfortable and casual home of Grandma or the elegant and impeccable home of your boss, client or dear friend, remind your children to take their manners on the road. Discuss with them ahead of time that if they don’t like certain foods that are offered, it is impolite to express this sentiment to the host and that a simple “no thank you” when offered, is sufficient.
The easiest and best way for your children to impress your guests or hosts is to remind them to use the “Magic Words” that help us all get along with graciousness and civility. They are: Please, Thank you, May I, Excuse me, and I’m sorry. These are simple words and phrases that can never be overused.
Visit us on the web at magnoliaetiquette.com for upcoming events and seminars as well as course descriptions and etiquette tips.