By SueAnn Brown
Now that the holiday season is upon us, there will be plenty of delicious holiday dinners, gift giving, and social gatherings for children to look forward to. This exciting and festive time of year is also the perfect time when parents can teach their children about using good manners and proper etiquette.
Holiday manner mishaps can best be avoided by preparing and teaching children specific social skills. For example, what child doesn’t love receiving a gift? But it’s how they actually receive the gift that matters. Let your child know that they will probably be receiving a few gifts during the holidays and there might just be one or two gifts they may not like. Teach them how to handle that difficult situation by role playing a little bit. What should you say and what shouldn’t you say? You could tell your child, “It is always polite to say ‘thank you’ after receiving a gift. It’s the thought that counts and not always the gift.”
Getting your child involved in the gift buying process will also help them understand how much time and effort goes into buying a gift for someone and can help them be more appreciative the next time they receive a gift.
Sending a handwritten thank you note is another lesson in gratitude. Make it a “house rule” that a thank you note is sent out first before the gift can be used or played with. That will give your little ones the motivation they may need to send out their thank you note quickly.
Thank you notes don’t need to be long—just short and sweet. Encourage your kids to write one sentence thanking the giver for the gift and one sentence detailing why he/she liked the gift and how it will be used. If your child has received a gift card or money, have them write how they intend to spend the money.
If your child isn’t writing yet, have your child draw a picture on the thank you note and dictate their gratitude to you as you write their note. Writing thank you notes can actually be a lot of fun for a young child. Provide colored pencils and paper, stickers and card making supplies. If your child can write, they can also practice addressing an envelope and then you can take a fun trip to the mailbox together. Children love to drop their letters into a mailbox!
It’s also never too early to start teaching children about table manners. A good time to begin is when your child is eating solid food and self-feeding. Teaching them to wash their hands before they eat, not to throw food, and to say “please” and “thank you” is a good start.
As they get older parents should continue teaching table manners and dining etiquette because it helps to develop important social skills as well as self confidence.
Your holiday meals will be much more enjoyable when your children are taught the following:
• When seated, unfold your napkin and place it on your lap. Use it to wipe your mouth.
• Sit up nicely and no squirming around in your chair.
• Begin to eat when everyone has been served.
• Say “please” and “thank you.”
• Take small bites and chew with your mouth closed.
• Never speak with food in your mouth.
• No slurping or burping at the table.
• No elbows on the table.
• The hand you are not eating with belongs in your lap.
• Thank the cook.
• Hold and use utensils properly for cutting and eating.
• Join in on the holiday conversation speaking pleasantly.
• Leave the table when everyone has finished their meal.
• Help to clear the table.
Teaching manners and proper etiquette to children is truly one of the best holiday gifts that parents can give. It will be a valuable gift to last a lifetime.
SueAnn Brown is a certified etiquette instructor and owner of It’s All About Etiquette. She teaches classes and workshops to children ages 6 to 8, 9 to 12, and teens, 13 to 18. For more information about her upcoming classes, visit www.itsallaboutetiquette.com.