Herald Journal Columns
Nov. 28, 2005, Herald Journal

Learning manners is a process

By JENNI SEBORA

As we are nearing the holidays, or are actually in the holiday season when there are gift exchanges, family and friend gatherings, and many other activities occurring in which our children are a part, good manners and etiquette can help our children and us survive all of the events with less stress.

With patience, continued help, and positive reinforcement, our children can learn to accept gifts from and efforts by others graciously, extend appreciation to others, and proper “Please pass the peas,” but “No thank you on the cranberries,” table etiquette, too. Just don’t expect perfection and remember, learning manners is a process.

The website jas.family.go.com offers more tips for teaching manners:

• Use a variety of approaches for teaching manners. Demonstrate and show your child how to put the napkin on his lap. Try using a one-word reminder to cue your child, such as “napkin.” Try using a non-verbal cue by just pointing to the napkin.

• Instruct in small doses and steps and don’t expect perfection. Choose one or two table manners to focus on at a time.

• Remain consistent with expectations.

• Tell your child what you expect in the manners category. On your way to a relative’s holiday party, explain, “If Aunt Sue serves something you don’t like, I expect you to just pass it or say, “No, thank you.” (We know kids are honest, and might say, “Yuck, I don’t like sweet potatoes,” so we can teach them a kinder way to “pass” on the foods they don’t like.)

• Don’t embarrass your child. Be aware of others who are around when talking with your child about appropriate etiquette and manners. It’s okay to let your children know not to talk with their mouths full, and to swallow their food before talking, but not when your teenage son’s girlfriend is eating with you for the first time.

• Model appropriate manners yourself. Say “please” and “thank-you” as well, and point out to your child when you are exhibiting good manners: “I received a gift from Grandma, and I am writing her a thank you note.”

• Use positive reinforcement and compliment your children when you “catch” them using good manners: “I heard you say thank you to Mrs. Smith for letting you play at their house with Billy. That was very polite of you.” This can go a long way in your children’s continued good manner efforts.

Parenting magazine, March, 2005, in an article about good manners, also suggests ways to teach why manners matter and to help kids understand why we use manners:

• Relay to them how it appears if they do not use manners, such as “If you don’t say thank you, it will seem like you don’t care that someone gave you something.”

• Avoid saying “because I said so.” This response doesn’t teach kids about caring and respect. Explain why being polite in given situations is the right thing to do.

• Ask your child how he would feel. Sometimes, children forget that others get their feelings hurt, too. When your child grabs something from his sister instead of politely asking, ask him how he would feel if she grabbed some toy from him without asking permission.

An ‘apron of thanks’

For grandma or grandpa or someone else special in your children’s lives, create a homemade apron to give as a holiday gift to extend appreciation and love.

Cut out handprints from different fabrics (Christmas print, felt, or other fun prints), sew them on or use craft fabric glue, and use puffy paints to embellish the handprints. Have each child write their name and possibly, their age by his or her handprint.

Julie G. from Three Rivers California, on the website familyfun.go.com, completed this activity for a Thanksgiving gift with the grandkids for their grandma and grandpa and embroidered “We’re thankful for Grandma” at the top.

This activity could be done at any time of the year for a personal gift for someone special. Your children could also use the puffy paint to write a quote at the top to whomever the gift is for.

Involve children in holiday preparations

If your family is hosting a holiday gathering or celebration, allow your children to help in the preparation. Supply your children with some appropriate items to decorate and prepare their own children’s dining table. Some of the supplies for decorations could include streamers, construction paper, silly straws, and napkins.

Your children could also create some festive placemats to be used as well, using construction paper, markers, and contact paper.

Quick travel tip

With the holidays comes more travel time in the car with our children, so here’s a quick tip for helping the travel time in the vehicle go a little smoother for the little ones.

Tape a picture of you and your child to the back of the front seat, so your child can have something to view that he or she loves.