Does little Bobby seem to huff and puff when he is not at the front of the line? Is darling Sally a little too nonchalant when greeting a friend or family member, much to the disappointment of her grandmother who expected a warmer greeting? It happens all the time, children occasionally come short in the ‘good manners’ department but can we really blame them when they see the same type of behaviour coming from their greatest role models? Yes, that’s right, Mom and Dad, could the kiddies be modelling behaviour they have learned at your side? A nerve racking thought right? But not something that can’t be corrected by the very same person who set the pattern to start. With Christmas right around the corner, this time of year tends to bring out the best and unfortunately, sometimes the worst in all of us. With little eyes and ears taking in our every move, it is the perfect time to set the record straight in the manners department. Child experts and educators alike will always tell you-the easiest way to teach a child anything is by example. This year, as you search for the perfect toy and trinket for your little and not-so-little ones, the following ten tips will help you with the most invaluable present you can give them, the gift of good manners!
The gift of patience
Yes, the line-ups in the shops are unreal at this time of the year but becoming irritable while waiting in a cue will never get you to the terminal any faster. Keep in mind that your children are taking in your every move and just let it go. Play a game with them, hum a tune or just wait your turn quietly. One of the best examples you can show them about patience is to be patient with them too, while waiting in line. Children have a hard enough time sitting still and waiting quietly to begin with, let alone when they can feel and see the tension brewing on a parent’s face. For children, patience is a skill that must be nurtured and allowed to mature so don’t expect this to change while you are waiting for the cashier to ring up your purchase. Afterwards ask them how it felt to wait for so long and what were some things they did to pass the time. Continue to practice the methods that seem to work best for them.
The gift of generosity
Embrace the festive spirit by showing generosity towards others in any way you can, big or small. It could be as simple as dropping a few coins into a donation box or contributing to a food drive. On a more elaborate scale, find a family (through your church or other organization) that is struggling and gift them with food, toys or whatever else they might need during the Christmas season. Whatever path you choose, involve your children in as many ways as possible, whether it’s picking out items for the food drive or wrapping gift baskets for a family in need. It will go a long way in teaching them what is truly important at this time of year.
The gift of graciousness
A lack of enthusiasm towards a gift can really spoil the fun for everyone, especially the gift giver! Have a ‘mini training session’ with your children before the upcoming gift giving, teaching them to look at the person giving them the gift, to smile while receiving and opening the present and to offer a genuine thank you to the gift giver. Review as many possible situations that might come up without bombarding them with too many rules. “What would you say if you get something you already have?” or “What would you say if you receive something you don’t really like” You might be pleasantly surprised at how a little practice can go a long way.
The gift of appreciation
We don’t express our appreciation to others as much as we should and it can’t be stressed enough with our kids! Notes of thanks for being invited to a party or presents received should be sent out as soon as possible, especially in situations where the gift-giver is not present when your child receives their gift. Even if they don’t like the gift, teach them to find at least one positive thing they can say, write it down, and then to say thank you. This is a skill that should be practiced all through the year and can even be made into a game to exercise better handwriting. If the child is not able or old enough to write their own note, guide them to express what they want written and write it down for them.
The gift of good table manners
Once again, this is an area where prior practice can really go a long way. Set an example during your family dinner hour and engage your children in easy conversation. Guide them to involve people across the table and on either side of them. When speaking across the table, remind them to control the volume of their voice. Remind them not to yell but also not to speak so softly that no one can hear them. Teach them to not talk with their mouth full. (This is a biggie when it comes to kids who often times are too excited to realize that while they can’t hold back on telling their story, no one wants to see what they are munching on!) Don’t forget other simple prompts that are just as important like holding their utensils properly and waiting until all have been served to start eating, little touches that will make every meal, holiday or otherwise, so much more pleasant!
The gift of social interaction
With every 5 year old in possession of an iPhone, DSi and countless other electronic gadgets, our children have started to mimic mini-zombies who have lost their ability to engage in many social situations. Try creating a holiday schedule that curbs their ‘electronic stimulation’. Make their games accessible only during travelling times in the car or specific hours at home. Make the gadgets off limits when they are a guest in someone’s home or when you have guests visiting your own home. Also, practice mock situations anytime you have a few moments where they have to greet someone with a hello, look the person in the eyes and smile. Remind them to speak clearly, say the person’s name and ask them how they are. If it is a relative or very close friend, tell them its okay to add a hug or two if they feel comfortable!
The gift of being a good guest
Your little social butterflies are just starting to spread their wings and before you know it, they will be attending parties and gatherings on their own. You wouldn't send them to school unprepared for a big test so don’t send them out into the social world ill-equipped to make a good impression. Teach them the importance of punctuality and make sure they arrive on time. Prior to the party date, explain to them the thoughtfulness of a gesture gift for their host, be it big or small and involve them in choosing a gift so they don’t show up to the gathering empty-handed. (Although the adults are technically hosting the party, it is the child of the host who invited your kiddo, so it is perfectly acceptable to choose a gift for the junior host!) Go over guidelines as to areas of their host’s home that you consider off-limits and instruct them to stay out of those areas. Remind them of keeping the inappropriate language in check (yes folks, our kids do use some of ‘those words’ especially when we are not around!) and that the words ‘please’ and ‘thank-you’ should be at the tip of their tongues ready to be let out any time they ask for a drink or our offered a piece of cake. Instruct them to be prepared and waiting for you at the agreed upon departure time and to bid their host good-bye with a smile and a ‘thank-you’.
The gift of being a good host
Just as important as being a good guest is being a super host in your own home. Guide them to understand that not everyone follows the same Christmas traditions that your family might, so forcing someone to partake in a particular ritual at the expense of their discomfort does not make for a good host. Teach them to be welcoming, thoughtful and flexible when inviting someone into their home. Are they hosting a Christmas party for a variety of classmates? Help them to arrange a few different games or activities to happily entertain their little buddies. Are they having a BFF over for your traditional Christmas turkey dinner that you know happens to be a vegetarian? Involve them in choosing at least one or two vegetarian dishes to offer their guest. Instill in your children the pride and honour of being a gracious host by accommodating their guests whenever possible and never making them feel they are in the way.
The gift of correspondence
A Christmas email to work colleagues and casual acquaintances that you don’t have an address for is always okay but there are many who love nothing more than reaching into their mailbox and pulling out a festive holiday card. Revive the waning tradition by involving your children in selecting a card, signing the card and addressing envelopes and of course, the final touch of sending them off in the mailbox.
The gift of acceptance
While Christmas seems to envelope our entire world for a few weeks of the year, let’s not forget that not everyone celebrates the same holidays as we do. Christmas is the perfect time to teach our children acceptance of others and their beliefs and that it is okay that we are not all cut from the same cloth. Have friends that don’t celebrate Christmas? Use them as models for how people of all different beliefs have a place in our lives. Kindness, the most important key in good social graces, should be shared with everyone, regardless of who they are or their beliefs!
(originally published in The Toronto Sun- Sunday, December 9, 2012)