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08 Dec, Thursday
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Montreal Families

Teaching kids to mind their manners

A few years ago, meal time at our house felt more like a circus show than quality time with our three kids. Apart from constantly reminding them to keep their elbows off the table and chew with their mouths closed, we had to put up with our kids belting out tunes at the top of their lungs, making wisecracks about going to the bathroom and other endless silliness. Somehow, mealtime had become a real hassle and my husband and I felt more like circus masters than masters of our domain.

The final straw came when a visiting relative commented (quite rightly) on my three children’s lack of manners during dinner. Thanks to their goofing around and potty-humour sounds, the adults were unable to catch up and have our own pleasant conversation.

Manners all about respect

Determined to change things, I began researching manners on the Internet and soon found the Emily Post Institute, which promotes good manners. On the website, I read a statement that would guide my efforts to change my children’s behaviour.

“Good manners are rooted in three fundamental principles: respect, consideration, and honesty. It is essential that (children) learn these principles, for the manners by themselves are hollow rules to be memorized and soon forgotten.”

Sylvie Larocque, a Montreal entrepreneur who teaches teen etiquette and civility courses at Profile Centre Self Improvement Finishing School, says that respect is the key word here. “Manners are about being respectful of yourself and others you encounter,” she says.

Larocque vividly recalls a lesson from her father when she was 16 years old. “He took me to a very nice restaurant. We spoke about interesting topics and then he helped me with my coat, held the door of the car for me… things like that,” she recalled. Later, her father pointed out the effort he had made to make her feel special and discussed the importance of treating people (and expecting to be treated) with respect.

Marcela Barragan runs a Montreal company called Social Charmer that offers courses in manners and table etiquette for children. In these classes, kids learn the importance of chewing with their mouths closed, tips on deftly navigating a formal table setting and how manners differ around the world.

She admits that teaching good manners to her three boys, ages 6, 8 and 15, includes a lot of repetition. “From the time they were 3 or 4 years old I would say over and over, ‘Don’t put your elbows on the table, hold your fork properly,’” she says.

But Barragan adds that the kids she teaches ask a lot of questions about why good manners are important. Once she explains the reasons, they are very open to learning about etiquette. She sometimes draws a comparison between manners and rules that we use in a gym class or for video games. When all players agree on a common set of rules, playing the game becomes clearer and more pleasant for everyone.

“Once a child learns the correct way of doing things and is praised for good habits, they’ll start to notice other kids or even adults with questionable table manners or social skills,” Barragan says.

Many of today’s families also have to confront how technology can influence mealtime behaviour. Larocque has firm views on this topic. “There should never be any type of electronic device allowed at the table, whether it’s a cell phone, portable game player, DVD machine, or a music device,” she says.

Larocque adds that manners extend beyond the meal table, so in her courses she talks with teens about how to dress appropriately and present themselves, how to politely greet a person and the art of acceptable conversation.

To bring some order to my chaotic family meals, I decided to focus on improving my children’s conversation skills. This was important because their constant silliness was causing us stress and, quite frankly, my husband and I felt excluded from their conversations. We felt it was important for them to learn to include others, especially while talking around the table.

My husband I explained to our kids that the art of having a conversation should involve somebody saying something interesting and then allowing others a turn to respond. And that conversation should calmly go back and forth between people like a game of volleyball. We emphasized that no one should hog the limelight by talking only about themselves. We even brainstormed topics we could discuss at meals: movies, books, school projects, topics in the news, travel, sports, and questions about others.

You can be sure that change didn’t happen overnight. But slowly we began to see an improvement. Having a clear idea about what they could and couldn’t say at the dinner table seemed to keep everyone on track. Mealtimes are far more pleasant now and we don’t hesitate to have visitors join us for dinner. As Barragan noted, teaching children good manners is an ongoing effort, but arming them with skills that will last a lifetime is definitely a worthy endeavour.

Tips for mealtime behaviour

DO DON’T
Sit straight in your chair Bring any electronics to table
Talk about pleasant things Talk about gross things
Wait until everyone is seated before
starting to eat
Ask for seconds before others have had firsts
Ask to have food passed, rather than
reaching across the table
Take more than your fair share
Use a knife and fork to cut food Overload fork or plate
Say “excuse me” or “I’m sorry” if you burp Chew with your mouth open or talk with your
mouth full
Try food someone has cooked even if
you think you won’t like it
Hum or sing at the table
Ask “may I please be excused” before
leaving the table
Tip your chair or lean on the table

 

Books

The Guide to Good Manners for Kids. By Cindy Post Senning and Peggy Post
Table Manners for Kids. By Cindy Post Senning and Peggy Post
365 Manners Kids Should Know: Games, Activities, and Other Fun Ways to Help Children Learn Etiquette. By Sheryl Eberly
Social Smarts: Manners for Today’s Kids. By Carol Barkin
Manners Made Easy: A Workbook for Student, Parent, and Teacher. By June Hines Moore
How Do Dinosaurs Eat Their Food? By Jane Yolen (Author), Mark Teague (Illustrator)

Where to learn more

Profile Centre Self Improvement Finishing School offers etiquette and teen programs. Call (514) 426-2213 or email profilemode@gmail.com.

Bellalur offers private and group etiquette and civility courses for teens, as well as corporate courses. Call (514) 297-0708.

Social Charmer offers courses for kids about good manners and social interaction. Call (514) 931-4531 or visit www.socialcharmer.com.

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