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Holiday Etiquette

How to teach children manners

Etiquette matters at holiday time.

As your seasonal schedule fills up with holiday parties and family get-togethers, your kids will have plenty of opportunity to show off their social graces, for good or ill. Instill the following courtesy basics — suggested by nationally recognized etiquette expert Diane Gottsman — and help them find their best behavior.

Introductions

When your child meets new people, teach her to introduce herself simply and succinctly: “Hello, my name is Rachel.” Show her how to extend her right hand (even if she’s lefthanded) and to firmly shake a hand that’s extended to her.

Proper eye contact

Instruct your child to maintain eye contact about half the time a person is speaking to him. If he is uncomfortable with direct eye contact, tell him to look at the bridge of the person’s nose.

The handshake (or unexpected hug)

Remind your child to give a firm handshake and, when appropriate, a friendly hug. If you know a certain aunt prefers the hug, you can “warn” your child ahead of time.

Napkin place setting

A napkin should stay on a lap all meal. If your child needs to excuse herself, she should place the napkin on her chair and push the chair in. At the end of dinner, the napkin goes on the left side of her plate.

Drinking glass place setting

The drinking glass goes to the right of his plate.

What if kids don't like the food?

Tell your child that if she doesn’t care for the food served, she should simply not eat it. Instruct her not to make any negative comments or “yucky” faces that convey her opinion.

How long can kids sit at dinner?

Young children, especially those under age 5, should not be expected to sit through a long holiday meal. Keep it to about 20 minutes, then allow the kids to get up and play while the adults linger.

Courteous words

Talk to your child about regularly using “please,” “thank you” and “excuse me.” During meals, he should ask to “please pass” the salt, say, and respond “thank you” when he receives the shaker.

Don’t interrupt

Remind your child about not interrupting other people’s conversations. Her cue to jump in and talk is after someone asks her a question.

Gift-receiving etiquette

Practice an acceptable scenario before a child opens presents in front of family and friends. Even if he doesn’t like a gift — or already has that item — a child needs to genuinely smile and say thank you.

Send thank-you notes

Snail-mailing physical thank-you notes is a must. If the child is too young to write, have her draw a picture of the gift and sign her own name. A thank-you from older children can include a sentence or two about why they liked the gift or how they’re using it.

Consistency is required to teach your children “good graces,” says Gottsman. Parents won’t find long-term success instructing their kids about manners only during the holiday season — but it’s certainly a good time to start.

Kim Seidel is an award-winning writer and editor with two relatively well-behaved teenage daughters.

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