A few weeks ago, we had a Princess Parables tea at a local bookstore. We got the opportunity to speak into the lives of sweet girls about the importance of manners and etiquette. In a culture that does not value or teach manners on a regular basis, our children will stand out above the crowds, if they are taught just a few lessons. They also have the opportunity to live out Christ’s command to love one another.
What do we mean by Manners and Etiquette?
Proper etiquette and manners are defined as, “helping those around us to feel more valued and more comfortable.” Plainly speaking, just an extension of Romans 12:10. I think it is more important to teach our kids this definition of etiquette instead of the old-fashion idea being something that is expected of them by society. Help them to see people as valuable with a desire to make others feel special.
For our three to eight year old princesses and knights, here are a few suggestions:
Greetings and Introductions: Learning to introduce yourself is an art. Children need to be taught a couple of important tips to address an adult for the first time. First, they need to keep eye contact with the person. Second, they need to shake hands (with their right hand firmly). Next, say your name. “Hi, Mr. Smith. My name is Matthew”. Lastly, smile! The same rules apply for kids. They may not shake hands (although some of my kids do), but in general it is good to go over this as well. We also include in this area “The Art of Conversation”. I have taught my kids at least 3 questions they can ask an adult or child to keep a conversation going. As you can see, we need to prepare our children before they get to the moment. For us, role-playing at home and reminders in the car keep everyone on track.
The Magic Words: We all love to hear “please” and “thank you” coming from our children’s mouths. However, just like any skill, it takes practice. I don’t believe my child has grasped this concept until they do it without my prompting. Being consistent with this, as a parent, drives the point home. I often will have my children ask me for something. For example, “Mom, I want juice”. To which I will say, “Oh I would love to give you juice, but you forgot how to say ask for it properly”. I will set the timer for 15 minutes, then you can come back and ask it again. When she returns and says, “Mom, may I have juice, please?” I grant her request. The same goes for “thank you” for the juice. You only have to do this a couple of times before they get it. I have found when children practice this at home, it comes naturally to them when they are outside the home. We have also role played with gift giving. Having the right response for the gift your child doesn’t like is definitely a needed tool. Another area children need to be instructed on is “Thank you” cards. We started really young with drawing pictures and by 1st grade all the kids could write most of their own “Thank you” cards.
Table Manners: Family dinners are the perfect opportunity to develop good table manners. When the kids were younger, we started with staying in their seat and keeping the food on the plate and in their mouths! Eventually, they were old enough to graduate to no elbows on the table, napkins in the laps and sitting up straight, bringing the food to your mouth (difficult for some teens!). We work on how to hold your fork, use your knife and chew your food. Mealtime is a great way to teach the art of conversation also. We have a time of sharing our day (“Pits and Peaks”) which first begins with quiet time for the kids while mom and dad talk. This leads into a time where they share the best part of the day (God’s blessings) and the worst part of the day (What are you learning?). This time reaffirms the lessons of no interrupting and teaching kids to appreciate others’ differences while giving them a voice in the family. Last, but not least, we develop the concept of cleaning up after yourself when dinner is finished.
With all the training opportunities, role-playing is the KEY! I can’t say it enough – role-play, role-play, role-play . . .
Manners and etiquette don’t end there! A key resource for us has been The Etiquette Factory. They are the “experts” on all things proper and they teach it all from a godly perspective. Our family has still so far to go in this area! I can tell you it does take work. Remembering we are here to serve others and live out Luke 6:31 “Do to others as you would have them do to you”, is an invaluable gift you can give your children. One worth the work you will put in.
How have you been teaching your kids to help others feel more valued and more comfortable in their presence?