As we head off to visit friends and family for holiday parties, some parents will be facing the holy terror of dealing with kids and manners (or lack thereof) in public. Many of us drop to our knees and pray our kid won’t say “ewww gross” when offered a canapé of shrimp by our sister, whose kids never seem to do anything out of line. ARG!
I feel your pain, I do. And, though I don’t need to tell you this, kids are particularly excited during the holidays, and can be manic when visiting other people’s homes. The holidays are also a time when kids are out of their own routine, and don’t always have a clear understanding of the new expectations. At home you are allowed to run around the kitchen island, so why not at grandma’s?
You’re likely NOT going to get their best behaviour in these situations, so we need to manage our expectations. If you think good manners just develop naturally, you’re wrong. We have to actively teach our children our social customs.
Here are some tips to help you survive the holidays:
Teach manners at home in advance, NOT in the moment.
The best place to teach manners is at home. Then, in public, we practice or apply what we have learned at home. Don’t decide midway through Hanukkah brisket that now is the time you need to teach your kids how to use their own fork and knife.
Model good manners and social graces.
Our children watch everything we do. The politer you are, the politer they will likely be. The more etiquette you exercise the more likely they are to mimic those social graces. If you always say “have a nice day” to the cashier or hold the door for the person behind you, you are making a powerful impression on your children, even if you have to wait until they’re adults before its fully expressed. Remember, parenting is about the long journey.
TTFT and make it fun.
TTFT is short for “take time for training”. This concept replaces the more common method of “teaching”; wait until they mess up and then correct them. Ouch. Instead, plan times to explicitly teach your child skills and make them fun! For teaching table manners, you might host a teddy-bear tea party or picnic. Use the fine china and linen. Invite them to dress up, send out invitations, make a menu. Demonstrate how to put a napkin on your lap, how to hold the little pinky up. Be playful and dramatic. Show them how one holds the plate while another person chooses their cookie. Then, take them for Sunday tea as a fun outing to do a “real tea party”, and practice what they’ve learned.
Believe it or not, you are MORE likely to get your kids to offer up a “please and thank you” if we simply ignore the times they omit them and, instead, thank them for their nice manners when they do use them. Giving MORE attention to behaviours you want to see, and downgrading or ignoring the behaviours you want to irradiate, is always the best way to go. “Thank you for holding the door – that’s so courteous of you”, “I love hearing words of appreciation when I make a meal you enjoy – thank you for that!”, “Your smile is telling me your thankful, and you are so welcome.”.
Understand that respect is mandatory, but hugs and kisses are optional.
You may wish your child felt moved enough to give grandpa and grandma a hug when they arrive from out of town, but it’s okay if they don’t. Parents should respect their child’s right to be in charge of deciding who touches their body. It’s early training in positive consent, simple as that.
Correct in private.
If you do need to correct or discipline your child at a social event, do it privately. Quietly move them aside to a hallway or bathroom. Squat to eye-level, and lovingly hold their hands or rub their back while you speak in a quiet warm tone; “At grandma’s house there is no running around the kitchen island. Those are her house rules and we need to follow them when we visit. If you would like to run, you can go to the basement or outside”. Making a public scene will create more chaos and help no one.
Try quick witty replies to save face.
If you are still excessively worried about your sister judging your parenting, check out my first book “Breaking The Good Mom Myth”. But for now, while you’re working on that, how about preparing a few lines to say so you don’t feel so impotent:
- “She is 4, we are still working on manners”
- “She may not yet be ready to say thank you herself, but I can see by the look on her face that she is! The words will come later.”
If you have tried something creative to teach manners in your house, please share them with the community here, I’m interested to know what’s worked best for your family and I’m sure others are too!