Thursday, September 10, 2009

Etiquette Challenge Workshop: Teach your children well

Without a close second, the subject I receive the most etiquette inquires on is teaching manners to children. Over these two years, I have mentioned several books which I think help adults to brush up their Shakespeare, so to speak, in order to help children in turn to be mannered. But as I am raising my own girls, I notice nothing teaches better than example.

Before I had children, I did not appreciate wild children in dining rooms, it turns out it is not more precious when my own daughter acts out. I am even less likely to tolerate wild behaviour from my own offspring. I am lucky that these incidents are very rare, but if they do happen, Josh or I walk our oldest out of the room and say to her quietly, "We need to sit down here until you can gather yourself, then we can go back." She does not want to miss a second at the table and composes herself with some gentle reassuring.

We do exactly what many do not do: We take them to lovely places; well-mannered dining rooms, and we eat three course meals with them. Yes. I am a dining dare-devil at every level.

Corporate management habits have helped me here: I believe that if you do not give the tools to succeed then you have assured failure. To that end, I set my babies up to win: We go very early to dinner or at lunchtime, I call ahead and warn the captain that I am bringing young children who are learning their manners and that I would love to sit in a quiet corner.

I bring distractions and things to make the event special: Small books, little coloring tablets and so on.

And I do not leave without my daughter's tiny precious porcelain tea cup and saucer. Then, every event is a "tea party" for her and it makes everything very much more wonderful for she and us.

She can absolutely dress up her favorite doll and bring her to the table to have her own chair. Why not? At my favorite restaurant there is a woman who eats on the terrace every Saturday evening with her dog in the chair next to her, and he has his own plate. Why not bring a doll or toy as long as they do not make noise (bark or drool)?

My babies are young: Two and a half and six months. Still, the older has dined successfully in some wonderful restaurants which I would not say are particularly kid-friendly. My younger Daughter comes along too, she is a very easy baby and loves everything, so no problem there. I cannot speak for a difficult baby as I have not had one.

I do not believe in spending a ton of money to eat out (I am old-world cheap, not frugal, to be clear) but I like to be out, experience things and gain culture, and my girls need to be well-mannered citizens of the world. To that end we do something of this nature every week without fail.

There is a little tea room nearby which we love and which welcomes children happily. They make everything perfect for them: A pot of tea and a scone costs about $4.00 and has been great manners practice.

We step it up to lunch or dinner whenever life allows. Sometimes Josh can be there, which is critical for them because they need to be aware of gentleman's manners also, but he works a great deal and consequently, much of this task has been mine (which is not a hardship).

I have learned little tricks to make the experience more exciting for my Daughter. In better restaurants, I ask them to fill a teapot with water and bring it to the table and my Daughter has her own tea party for lunch or dinner while we dine together. She loves a tea party, anywhere, anytime.

She needs to practice with everything on the table and we help her deal carefully with glasses and all the items there (see below). Only knives are prohibited. We reinforce the message that objects on a dining table are tools and not toys; in order to learn to use them she is allowed to deal with everything herself under our watchful eyes.

I remove only the knife from her place setting and she otherwise can use both a spoon and fork because her place is set with them at all meals at home as well.

When we are out, things need to be special to keep her attention, she is allowed to have treats and fun food and all the rules of organics are suspended.

It is great that they make hamburgers for children in good dining rooms now! When my parents went through this process with my Brother and I, we were constantly disappointed by the choices for us; all very serious food, nothing we would love to eat. Consequently, the experience was not as much fun as it could have been. But there was always dessert.

This time is about joy, not restrictions or label reading (you cannot do that in someone's home or a restaurant - at the moment - anyway, right?).

Disasters? We have had plenty of spills, stains, and tears but all of those things have reduced since the beginning. And the restaurants have been duly warned in order to project against permanent issues.

Delicious, kid friendly food, a little lightheartedness, and some space between us and the next table of diners have helped to make etiquette practice painless for all of us. Happy Mama...

(Ooops, did I forget to tell you I had cut all my hair off? What do you think? I kind of miss my long luxurious locks!)

and Happy babies. because I have also learned to try to be sure there is room for spontaneous tap dancing: Because sometimes you gotta dance!

Will you share some advice on teaching manners to children for this Workshop?


Marsha said...

My children are almost-9 and five years old. They've been eating at all manner of restaurants since they were very small and, like you, I do believe that helps. They've seen manners in action, so to speak, so it's not just theory for them. Many servers and other helpers have approvingly noted their behaviour, which makes me happy (of course) but also a little sad. Is it that exception to hear pleases and thank yous from little mouths? That napkins are draped across slender knees?

For their fourth birthdays my son and daughter each received the gift of their own monogrammed notes. These are used for thank yous, get wells, etc. Until handwriting is established, I write as dictated by the child. My son is almost out of cards now and his first question upon being asked what he'd like for his birthday was, "Is it o.k. if I ask for more note cards *and* an Eagles jersey?" I'm so charmed that I'll happily order both.

Finally, he'll be attending - along with a friend - a Jon D. Williams Cotillion this winter. He's a little nervous (his sister is envious) but interested. I look forward to him learning that my "rules" aren't just mom being a little nuts and practicing at home with him. My parents sent me to Charm School (do these exist anymore?) so I regard this kind of thing as a family tradition.

Catherine said...

Fabulous, a great habit to establish early.

Charm school: Indeed, though in our area in the south it is billed as cotillion training school. Southern Protocol is one of my faves.

When we are in NY, no such school is available. Shame.

Belle (from Life of a...) said...

We approached things in the same manner. We enjoy nice meals and thought that it was important for our children, now 19 and 23, to know how to behave in restaurants. Yes, we did have to walk each of them outside from time to time but they learned quickly that that was MUCH less fun that staying in and behaving.

Alice said...

Though I am not a mother...yet, I am always impressed by well behaved, mannered children! I am inspired by your teachings to do the same one day. My sister and I were raised very much the same as you are doing.

As a child growing up in the South, my parents never accepted a response out of our mouths unless it had the phrase "yes ma'am, no ma'am" or "yes sir, no sir." And I'm all about Marsha's response as well, thank you cards...yes, yes and yes! Kudos to you inspiring moms for a future mom!

Anonymous said...

We don't have children yet but I appreciate all of these tips. Nothing drives me battier than wild children in restaurants. I plan to teach my future children all the manners I can. Yes, they are children but that is no reason to let act nuts in public (or anywhere for that matter).

JMW said...

Great topic!

We're going through this right now. Our 4-year-old daughter has always done really well in restaurants, but our 2-year-old son is another story. We're working very hard on proper dining habits, but it's been a bear with him. Although, we recently took them to a nicer restaurant, laid down the law before hand and requested that we be seated in a corner away from others. This actually worked out well and our son behaved very well. Sometimes I think that the places that seem more kid-friendly may offer sensory-overload for little ones and actually encourage loud voices, jumping up from the table, etc. Maybe it's just me, but that's what I've experienced of late. Down the road, I hope to send them to cotillion, like my husband attended as a kid. Great training ground.

LPC said...

Always leave the restaurant with your child if they make life hard on the other patrons. Explain to them why. We focused on explaining to our kids, although they are not naturally rowdy anyway, that there were OTHER PEOPLE in the restaurant who wanted quiet and to eat in calm. The goal was to bring in other civilizing factors, beyond us poor tired parents. It worked.

Eileen said...

Your hair looks great! Very chic and sophisticated looking.

Great ideas for dining out with children! I'll use them for my grandson.

I never had a problem with any of my children, from the time they were infants they were well-behaved, we took them everywhere with us. Of course as tiny tots we brought along distractions, but from the time they were about three, they sat like perfect little ladies and gents, they were a pleasure! We got complimented all the time on their behavior. I don't know what it was, but they were Angels when out in public! I never appreciated how good they were until now when we try to dine out with the grandkids! Whew! It's too much work! Or maybe we're just too old now!

Great post!
All the best,

the southern hostess said...

Such great ideas! No kids for me yet, but I'll keep this in mind when the day comes.

The Countess of Nassau County said...

First off, Luv the hair.

Second - great post, you really gave this one your all.

I recently went through one of the more challenging dining situations for a child, cruise ship dining rooms. Many of the tips the Hostess gave in her post were in effect. We ate during the early seating, we had much of the place setting removed, because if a child has no understanding of what an object is for they will turn it into a space ship, a weapon, a percussion instrument, whatever their little heart desires. Baring one tough evening that was more a product of jet lag and exhaustion than manners, the kids did great. On that one tough night I made one of those Mom calls that one must make from time to time, and Mom and son left the formal dining room. He passed out almost immediately and I had dinner delivered to my cabin. You've got to know when to say when.

Right off the bat I articulate what is expected. Bad manners is a show of disrespect to all the people who worked to make and serve the food they are eating.

I think a lot of parents struggles in dining rooms have to do with their own attitudes. Even if you don't want to be there, treat this as exotic, fun, exciting. If Mom is on the cell phone half the meal that sends a message to the kids that this is not all that important.

Prepare your child to experience new foods. Kids who eat nothing but chicken nuggets and orange mac and cheese WILL struggle with sushi. Explain things, have the wait staff explain things. This should be an adventure for the kids. A sushi tip, by all means sit at the sushi bar, your kids will love the theater.

Toys are good to a point, and I think the Hostess is right on suggesting small books, crayons and small pads. When traveling I always have the kids draw a picture of the days activities and that works extremely well.

Here are some toys I have seen in dining rooms that work poorly.

Play Dough (no kidding)
Mini DVD player (just get a babysitter and leave the kid home)
The DS

BL is so right that kids model parents. I was raised by a classy Mom with exquisite taste who thought the American style of eating, with fork moving from hand to hand, was the dumbest thing she ever saw. So of course her left handed daughter never picked up this habit, I eat in the European style like her. While I haven't been barred from any dining rooms to date, I don't want my kids to grow up completely unaware of this method as I did until college. So I'll just have to brush up on my manners!

Reggie said...

Dear Ms. BHE, I have given a great deal of thought to what you most admirably and eloquently raise, and feel it imperative to draw a distinction between dining out during the daytime and evening, and the type of establishment one chooses to take one's meal. I believe that well-behaved children should be made welcome in many, more casual restaurants during the day, but discouraged from being brought to dinner or luncheons in fancy restaurants designed for and frequented by cocktail-imbibing grownups.

I grew up in a household where I and my siblings were not taken out to dinner at "grown up" restaurants by our parents until we were in our early-teens and then only rarely, and by that time we had been aggressively schooled in manners, both at home and by others better-equipped to do so than our parents. As younger children we occasionally ate out with our mother (mother only, never with our father) during the day, usually while accompanying her shopping and typically in a department store restaurant or similar. Only time we ate out as "a family" (i.e., including our father) with any regularity while growing up was on weekends at a club where there was a requirement to spend a certain amount each month (probably only reason we were taken there at all, now that I think of it), but we only went out as a family for Sunday brunch and the club required that children (rigidly defined as younger than 12) were to sit in a different room from the adults, supervised by (usually) good-natured college students. Sounds dreary perhaps in today's child-obsessed culture, but it was a lot of fun actually (parents and children both were quite happy with the arrangement), and quite a sense of achievement was had when one was old enough to be allowed to eat with the imbibulous adults (grown up at last!). In general my parents weren't around all that much nor were they all that interested in what we were up to as children, leaving us in the care of very able and (mostly) kind domestics until packed off to boarding school (thank goodness). Seemed perfectly natural to me at the time (I wasn't actually all that interested in them, either) and believe me that's how I'd do it if I were able to and if I had had children, but I didn't unfortunately.

Now when I go out to dinner in a "grown up" restaurant (I'm not talking the Olive Garden here) where I see poorly supervised children set up a fuss, I catch myself angrily asking "if they" (referring to the parents) "want to go out to eat in a place such as this why don't they leave the damn brats at home with the nanny?". So if they don't have a nanny or similar, must all parents stay at home chained to their children, subsisting on nothing but mac-n-cheese? Easy and Elegant shows us that's not one's sentence in life, certainly. However, taking children out to eat in a "grown up" restaurant for dinner (at least) requires taking responsibility for a number of things: (1) carefully selecting an appropriate restuarant (i.e., don't bring them to Grenouille) and (2) attending to the little angels carefully with a mind to the experience of the other diners in the restaurant (as you outline in your posting). If neither (1) or (2) are achievable, then either eat at home (with style and elegance indeed) or hire a babysitter so that other diners who have left their own children at home (if they have any) can enjoy their meals without being burdened by an unruly child with the misfortune of having parents who are either unwilling or incapable of properly caring for it.

Tish Jett said...

Have visited you so many times and never left a message. I should have long ago.

Just to say I think your blog is superb.

The idea of exquisite manners -- which I see a lot of over here -- is magic for me. I think it is a shame parents take the easy way out and don't bother teaching their children to be gracious and polite. It gives them an edge and at the end of the day it's another way of expressing kindness and respect.

The Blushing Hostess said...

It bears saying to all the commenters this week: Across the board - truly thoughtful and generous work on the subject. And I must tell you, when I started this feature, I was not sure what would come of it, but I hoped for small contributions to a more graceful society. In only a few weeks, the contributions of your voices has been both larger and more pivitol than I imagined and I continue to be grateful for your input, as I know a legion of new parents are today as well.

I thank you, as always.

Sharlotte said...

It is refreshing to hear of parents that actually spend time teaching manners to their children.

I teach elementary school and manners are something definitely missing from many children. This is my 26th year to teach and it's gotten worse. {Eating across from some 10 year olds can actually turn your stomach!}

During previous years, we've even taught table manners during class. It helped a bit, but with out reinforcement at home, it's usually lost.

What wonderful children you are raising. Manners are indeed very important across the board. Your children are lucky to have such responsible parents!

bcp.....My Life said...

The perfect place for children to learn good manners is at home. “Please” and “Thank you” are still the “magic” words, and we are doing our
children a favor if we insist they use them until they become a habit.

As a grandparent, I realize that we, too, play an important role in teaching our grandchildren good social graces. First they must hear us
using these words. Then we must reinforce what their parents are teaching
them by insisting on the same responses. It takes us all—parents, grandparents, day care workers, teachers—to teach a child.

I’m convinced one of the major problems with children today is a lack
of respect—for anything or anyone. We must teach them to respect authority
and to respect their elders. They must be taught that sometimes there will be
no explanation for why they must do as we say, other than because we are
older, wiser and care about them very much.

Mealtime should, above all, be a pleasant time. Children who see their
family enjoying food and each other will follow their example. This is also
the perfect time to practice good table manners. Our children were taught,
if they finished before everyone else, to ask, “May I be excused?” They also
thanked their mom(me) by saying, “I enjoyed my dinner, etc.” They were
not allowed to complain about the food.

Children do not automatically know the proper way to greet people.
We have to show them! Practice showing a three-year-old how to shake
hands. Teach them to smile and look the person they’re greeting in the eye.
Make a game of it.

Don’t sell these little people short. It is so important to never forget
that they are just that: little persons who must be taught—by all of us.

This is a "post" from my blog, I am a grandmother with thoughts, experiences,and opinions about children, grandchildren, and growing older.
I love your blog and have it listed on mine.

pink green & southern said...

What a great post--manners are so important!

Anastasia-Lily Lemontree said...

I have been reading your blog for about a month now and it has become one of my favourites! Kudos to you for having the courage and stamina to venture out into the dining world with small children. Most people choose to leave their little ones at home just to experience some alone adult time and then can't understand why their children act like wild animals the first time they are thrown into an unfamiliar situation like dining out. I absolutely agree with you that nothing teaches better than example.
As an etiquette trainer for children, it never ceases to amaze me how some parents believe that by dropping their children off at one of my classes for an hour, they will automatically turn out to be well-mannered and polite little angels. They are often very surprised when I mention to them that they also must follow through at home with what the children have been taught that day and that they must be well-mannered role models for their children.
Also, absolutely love the hair, it looks fabulous!

teaorwine said...

Manners and civility. Simply the best thing that you can pass on to your children.

The Blushing Hostess said...

I feel answering in comments is going to be calamity, but aware that some commenter prefer it, I am willing to try:

Marsha - indeed. And i have not ordered notes for the girls yet, though tto do so next Christmas, thank you for comfirmeding my thoughts. Well noted, otherwise.

Reggie - I received four emails on your comment from readers surprised to read these remarks. I knew you (generally) though, when I was a child and I know the adults of this upbringing now. Among them, my best friend and I will say, she is magnificent but elected not to have children of her own. I will save the rest of this thought for an email.

Alice and Mary - indeed and we will be here when you need us!

JMW - agreed. I will never darken the door of a crab shack again!

LPC - agreed!

I have to feed the babes now, will catch up with the remainder of the commenters after...

Etiquette moms said...

Really it is very nice post. I completely support your view that 'nothing teaches better than example'.
There are most important thing is proper learning of good manners for children. Parents liability is too much important nowadays.