Here are things to do before the holidays to equip your children with the means for success through etiquette.
• Explain who will be in attendance at the meal, and how the children should refer to these guests (Mr., Ms., Aunt Jody, etc.) Tell the children a funny story (one you don’t mind having repeated) about each person, which will make the adults seem more approachable.
• Re-explain introductions: how to shake hands (no limp fish here) and the art of looking people in the eye. Looking adults in the eye is more than good manners, it is a skill which actually protects children from abuse of all kinds by adults. This skill is so important that I advocate immediately verbally reminding the children each time they fail to do so. Also, put your hand on the back of the child’s head to guide their eyes back to the adults face. The art of looking directly at adults will become a habit. This behavior has the added value of ensuring that adults include the child in the conversation, giving the child experience at adult conversation. Hint: If your child looks at the adult’s forehead (thus avoiding eye contact) the adult will be none the wiser — try it!
• Table manners can be made fun and easy. Everyone who remembers to put their napkin in their lap and use it properly gets a special treat. Elbows on the table should be noted, but not commented on, and reduce the reward.
• Remember, you’ll be graded too, so watch your manners or you’ll be rewardless!
• To keep children calm and satisfied before the meal, give them peanuts or a peanut butter sandwich. The protein staves off hunger and the peanuts have a calming influence.
• Finally, do not embarrass your child by discussing their manners in public. Remember, the only thing worth embarrassing your child for is safety!