One of the hardest things about being a parent is knowing how to inspire your child to care about manners. I am the founder and now CEO of The English Manner and The Etiquette Connection, and over the years I have been asked to teach many youngsters how to behave with peers, family and guests, how to tidy up, how to send thank you letters and how to eat nicely. I know we have had success, but every child is different, and I believe very strongly that to inspire, one must be inspired.
A child, however bright, is not going to have a long attention span at an early age. Lessons that are practical always work best, and above all, if parents can demonstrate good behaviour themselves and reinforce what they teach on a daily basis, we won’t go far wrong.
In recent years, there has been a strong recognition that good manners are lacking. I believe this is because there are many parents and even grandparents who have not been taught the basics. Everyone has become caught up in the career ladder, families now rarely sit and eat together and so mealtime conversation and learning is lacking.
Life is led at such a pace that social niceties have been forgotten. How often does an adult receive a drinks party invitation and put it to one side without answering in case something else, or better, comes up? If we behave in this way, how can we expect our children to do better?
I am delighted that parents, schools and employers are now seeing the need for manners to return. We are running regular classes for children socially and in schools, which recognise tradition but also pay heed to the modern way of living. Things have moved on, and so must we, but we must also be mindful that if we treat others well and with consideration there is a good chance we will be treated well ourselves.
A well-mannered child will be invited back. An ill-mannered child will miss out on friends, play dates, sleepovers, impromptu outings and, importantly, will be held up as an example of the parents’ lack of social know-how. This is something worth remembering as we all live in an increasingly cross-cultural society where successful integration is key.
From the outset, parents need to cover the basics. Eating with the correct utensils, drinking silently from a cup, saying please and thank you, leaving the table or the room, putting down the loo seat, tidying away toys, writing thank you letters when appropriate (even if they cannot write, then after presents always tell them that you are writing on their behalf and get them to make a card or colour in a picture to send), holding doors open for others, dressing appropriately and dressing up for special occasions. Even bedtime discipline and pocket money come into this: be consistent with your message and don’t be deflected with nagging or sulks. Children thrive on parameters and consistency, and a tired and spoilt child is no-one’s friend.
Making these life lessons a game is a great place to start. Reward good behaviour (I am never above using a bribe if it is appropriate – a useful bargaining tool on many occasions)! Talk about the reasons for your rules, and if possible add a little history and tradition as to rules’ origins.
It will always stick better in the mind if your child knows that there is a logical reason behind it. In one class in the USA I had a child who wiped his mouth on his sleeve throughout tea. I asked the parents if he used a napkin at home. Needless to say that answer was negative, and so it stood to reason that he didn’t know what to do when he had cream dribbling down his chin!
Explain what instruments we use to eat with and why. Show your child that the soup spoon leads away from the mouth to stop splashing and they will see the logic. A knife held incorrectly will make meat hard to cut; explain that if your child holds it in the right way mealtimes will become easy.
Speaking with your mouth full is an obvious example of bad manners, but how many parents explain it when they tell their little one off? Practice makes perfect, so give your child time to practice using a knife and fork so that it becomes second nature and it will make life much easier when eating out in public as well as at home.
If you do go to restaurants, particularly fairly formal ones don’t be put off by formality. Take a colouring book or a reading book and allow them to join in but have something to alleviate the tedium of waiting between courses! If you feel that a book is a useful tool when teaching good manners, read it with your child, not to them.
Give advice in small doses and take the time to practice what is preached. Take it as an opportunity to brush up on your own knowledge!
Good manners travel far.
About the Author
Founder & CEO of The English Manner
Previously a consultant to the world famous finishing school, Lucie Clayton, Alexandra brings over 25 years experience in etiquette, protocol and event planning and began her career in the Royal Household of Her Majesty The Queen. Alexandra enhanced her entertaining and social skills development knowledge working latterly for other members of the Royal Family and on several well-known charitable committees before founding The English Manner in 2001. During her career, she has regularly consulted with VIP residential households and hospitality clients in the areas of staffing, training, planning and management and is recognised for her attention to detail and exceptionally high standards.
Alexandra is the Founder of The English Manner and Chief Executive.