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Manners "What Your Child Should Know"

Article: Today's Family Vol1. Issue 11 September, 2000

Manners "What Your Child Should Know"
By Tammy Hutchinson

Think about it: some people just naturally command respect and are perceived as responsible. They're the ones whose company you most enjoy--you like to be in their corner of the room at a social gathering, on their team at work or play. Children are no different. They gravitate toward other children who are pleasant to be with, who look and act in pleasing, inoffensive ways. You can give your child this invaluable advantage as he/she moves through the challenging developmental years. Common sense good manners--the art of doing what makes good sense with others in mind--can help your child to be the one others want to spend time with, be on a team with, and even sit next to at lunchtime.

As a teacher or dancing and manners for sixteen years in the metro Atlanta area, I am often asked how I feel about formal etiquette classes for pre school and elementary age students. While an occasional dress-up tea party may be such fun for a three and four year old, I would hope that the point would be the fun they have rather than instruction on the art of sipping tea. Children from second through fifth grades would benefit from an abbreviated, yet fun, number of classes covering some of our most earnest concerns: table manners, being a good guest, host, and friend, and making a good impression on others. In fact, studies have found that children who are schooled in basic social graces are better equipped to do well academically as well as in their relationships with other people.

Ideally, however, we would hope much of this early social education would come straight from the home. One promise my husband and I made every emerging summer vacation when our children were in their early elementary years, was to use our families' less hassled meal time educationally--develop their communication skills, work on family value issues, character building, pay attention to their dining skills. Before we knew it, we were making that same pledge in September: "Now that we're back at school and on a real schedule...!" Not! Where does our time go?

There is precious little time to devote to our children's social skills. We enroll them in piano and clarinet, soccer and tennis teams need to be fielded, their school projects and homework demand hours of time. When we juggle several children's schedules, along with our own community and work-related responsibilities it is no wonder we would rather just stop at McDonalds, set up TV trays, and grow profoundly absorbed in Drew Carey reruns!

Perhaps that is why we as parents are so delighted when friends or teachers remark about how well-mannered and respectful our children are! We mutter to ourselves, "How Did That Happen?"

You don't have to be a rocket scientist to know that Children Learn through Imitation. If they see their family treating each other with respect, communicating well, consciously using good table manners, the children will take those habits with them wherever they go.

These are some habits we should be teaching our elementary school age children:

Saying "Please," "Thank you," "You're welcome," "Excuse me," "I don't care for the succotash, thank you," Saying "I'm sorry" when he has hurt someone's feelings or stepped on their toes, "May I please be excused?" are habits they learn over breakfast cereal or Big Macs. "Yes, Ma'am/sir" should become a part of their vocabulary, and they need to learn to not interrupt adults when we are talking. They should be taking small bites, eating slowly, using the proper utensils, chewing with their mouths closed, and always putting their napkin in their lap during a meal.

Discouraged behaviors at the dinner table are putting elbows on the table when there is food on the table, talking with the mouth full, pointing with silverware, slouching in the chair, reaching across the table, and pushing the plate away when they are finished.

Even if you can not dine regularly at home or as a family, serious attention to these basics should be paid so that your child has the skills necessary to "shine in public." If you have the luxury of regular meal times spent together, his well-learned habits will serve to free him from worry that he will commit a hugely embarrassing faux pas as he heads into his middle school years and is trying to win sweet Lucy's attention.
Being free from worry about such things is incredibly confidence-building.

Another skill your elementary age child should learn is how to be a good guest and host. If he has a friend spend the night, he should make him feel comfortable by including him in all activities even if the host must do some chores--find some portion your friend can help with. Let your friend know the "house rules", i.e., no snacks after nine o'clock, or no telephone calling past 9:30 p.m. etc. As an overnight guest, you ensure a return invitation if you sincerely compliment the cook, make conversation with the parents and siblings, help with the dinner dishes and make your bed the next morning. Do not ever leave without thanking the parents personally.

As parents of elementary school age children, we make every effort to have them achieve academically and athletically. It is in their social relationships, however, that their self - esteem can be so fragile. By encouraging them to look others in the eye, smile, and make every effort to make new friends even daily, their confidence will grow and serve them well during those tumultuous, upside-down, inside-out middle school years!

Middle School Expectations

I do not need to repeat the adjectives that best describe the middle school age child. I do remember, as a parent of two, we all chastise ourselves for not spending enough time with them when they were younger!
What a huge circle of guilt! We are sore from the lashings we give ourselves! This, however, is the best time to teach social skills. Your child really knows he needs them! The middle schools seem to be reluctant to offer many social experiences for the children-- fearing many behavior problems. If there is a formal or informal program offering these classes, one of the most beneficial and fun ways your child can learn lifetime social skills, please enroll them. Even if they are kicking and screaming at the onset, you will probably overhear them later saying they actually learned a few things! ("Mom and Dad might not be so dense after all!") Undoubtedly, the classes will be filled with their peers, and an opportunity that offers some structure, some fun, at this crucial time in their lives is one of the greatest gifts we can give them as parents.

In our classes, students will learn to greet adults comfortably, to make eye contact, offer solid hand shakes. They will learn how to introduce themselves as well as others, make good impressions on the telephone, stand when an adult enters the room, and practice holding chairs, doors, and coats for ladies. Generally, these classes are combined with ballroom and popular dancing, so the children become comfortable with social graces like how to ask each other to dance, and how a well-informed girl never turns down an offer to dance.

As parents you would also be relieved to know that an advanced middle school program covers the more
advanced social skills such as interviewing techniques, dating questions, conversation one-on-one, and restaurant and table manners.

As our children get older, the natural phenomenon occurs that has them tuning us out more and more. It certainly makes sense to allow others the opportunity to give them the information they need to know to succeed socially. Now we can sit back, and take in all the compliments from our friends and faculty: "What lovely children you have!"


High School Experiences

Having good manners is simply doing that which makes sense and is the kind and thoughtful thing to do. If your child is taught this from pre-school on, his habits will be well-established as he enters high school and beyond. Encouraging extra-curricular clubs or business classes that will address issues pertinent to your child's future through role-playing or professional speakers is one way to continue his or her social education. Offering special dance classes to small or large groups preparatory to Jr.-Sr. Prom is another way to advance our high school student's experiences. Being an avid supporter of your child's choice of activities is further evidence of your care and concern for his growth as a participant in life.

Besides being models of proper behavior, we as parents must see that our children are taught the proper skills to become viable members of our society. This instruction takes time and patience. The rewards are huge: You have children who will be happier, more obedient, do better academically, and have far more friendships than those who lack the rules of courtesy and kindness.




Tammy Hutchinson, director of The Cotillion Group, teaches the Junior Promenade of Roswell, Holcomb Bridge Dance Assembly, Crabapple Junior, Haynes Bridge, St. Ives, Webb Bridge, and the Lakeside Cotillion in Woodstock. Her after-school programs include many public and private middle schools in DeKalb, Atlanta City, and Fulton County. She also teaches the "Keys to Success" classes at high schools and Teen Boards throughout the city. The Chattahoochee Cotillion enjoys the services of The Cotillion Group annually as the debs prepare to be presented. She and her staff of Bea Brett, Pam Lanford, Susan Ewald, and Adele Hernandez teach adult dance classes across the metro area. Ms. Ewald is specializing in a new program called "Young Elite" which offers classes tailored to elementary age children emphasizing age-appropriate etiquette ultimately building a child's self-esteem.

To hear more about these excellent programs, please contact Tammy Hutchinson at 404-580-8787


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