Does Your Kid Share the Sandbox? 5 Simple Steps to Raising a Well-Mannered Child
I appeared on a radio talk show two months back and returned home eager to check my email inbox. I hoped for new image/etiquette clients and quickly discovered that my focus on adult professionalism perhaps needed to expand. A whopping majority of messages questioned whether I taught children's etiquette.
Earlier this week, I posted a question to my Facebook account: Are children's manners on the decline? Answers arrived like tax returns on April 15; apparently the issue resonates because in two years of Facebook operation, I've never witnessed a more rapid and passionate response.
I side with people who believe manners should be taught primarily in the home and reinforced from every other conceivable angle. Schools, churches, sports teams, and even strangers can instruct on civility through real-time teachable moments. All contexts are fodder-worthy and that, actually, is great news.
FIVE SIMPLE TIPS TO INCREASE CHILD CIVILITY TODAY:
TIP 1: Have children practice setting the dinner table at home. There is a correct way. But in today's world, accomplishing this task is no easy feat. How do I know? Because many of my own college students are challenged by this assignment. We've otherwise never been taught in our fast-paced, fast-food culture.
This past May at the University of Cincinnati, my etiquette course students conducted a civility campaign to highlight the importance of proper manners. Your family, school, or workplace might wish to do the same at some point.
One creative group booked a booth at a campus festival and conducted a "Set the Plate Setting" contest. The rules were simple; the first person to correctly set a simple plate setting would triumph. Surprisingly, there were few winners. Even if the fork was correctly placed left of plate, there was apparent confusion about spoon and knife order. Toss in additional silverware and watch the brows furrow. Click here for a tutorial on "Decoding the Plate Setting": http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-image-professor/201005/dine-confidence-decoding-the-plate-setting.
TIP 2: Occasionally treat children to a formal restaurant experience. You'll not only enjoy delicious food, but kids then develop a comfort level with high-end dining. Most of us are so accustomed to the informality of relaxed food chains that we feel uneasy moving into a more sophisticated context.
But the "fancy" place becomes more comfortable with each visit. A gradual and consistent exposure triggers composure, confidence, and an expert power they'll take with them into their professional futures.
TIP 3: Have children write thank you notes. Anything will do, but I've discovered children demonstrate more "buy-in" if they have their own paper stationery. Inexpensive products can be purchased from dollar stores.
Family members should always be thanked. While a verbal acknowledgement is appreciated, some gifts demand the handwritten treatment. There's an art to thank-you note writing, addressing, stamping, and sending, and your children should be versed in the how-to. If your child cannot yet write, consider having them make a piece of art to send. My sense is the recipient will proudly display such a colorful treasure on their refrigerator. I know I do.
TIP 4: Most children enjoy role-play. Use the opportunity to instruct on proper protocol. My beloved six-year old niece Caitlyn likes to pretend she and her Aunt LisaMarie are travelling to Disney World where we dine with Cinderella. I make sure that when "checking in" to our hotel, we say "please" and "thank you" to the various staff. Even children's toys can be incorporated to teach courtesy. A play telephone, for example, can be used to demonstrate proper phone etiquette. I've even used Caitlyn's dolls to demonstrate car safety as we "drive" down to Florida. She knows we're not moving forward until even the safety belts are fastened.
TIP 5: The apple doesn't fall far from the tree. As the adult caretaker, you're the manner exemplar. Children take their cues from you and we all know it. If you curse, tailgate the neighbor, and speak disparagingly of the sales clerk, don't be surprised when children grow up to do the same. Model and encourage appropriate behavior now so that when those apples do fall, they're near the tree, not rolling down the hill.
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