Everyday Etiquette: Early Lessons Have Lasting Impact
By Diane Gottsman

\"byEvery parent has, at some point, had the uncomfortable experience of looking on helplessly as his or her pride and joy blurts out an impromptu comment such as, "Grandma Betty, my mommy says you get on her last nerve," or "Mrs. Smith, why is your nose so big?" or my own personal experience of "Mommy, if his name is Mike [age 31 and still living at home with no job prospects], why do you always call him Weasel?" ("A little weasel" to be specific, but Mike\'s mother was not amused!).

There is no way to prepare for these awkward moments, so relax. We can\'t expect children to be perfect. However, there are simple steps we can take to ensure that we are covering all the bases when teaching our children about good manners and etiquette. Here are 10 starting points:

1. Start with the basics. Kids learn more through imitation than through instruction, so practice what you preach. Use "Please" and "Thank you" when interacting with your child.

2. Look your child in the eye and add a smile to your words. Most of what we say is nonverbal. Simple body language sends your child the message of respect.

3. Practice good hygiene. Wash hands before each meal, and brush teeth in the morning and at bedtime. Respecting one\'s body is a big part of respecting oneself.

4. Allow young children to use utensils at the table. Don\'t focus on "the mess" - the idea is to get them comfortable using a fork rather than fingers.

5. Expect your child to stay seated at the table until the end of the meal. Make every effort to focus on conversation with your child at the dinner table. Keeping your children involved keeps them interested in sitting and enjoying the meal and the company of their parents.

6. Have older children take their plates to the sink and push in their chairs when the meal is over. For younger children, pushing in the chair is a good start. Eventually, they can help clear the table and load the dishwasher - learning responsibility and respect.

7. Don\'t interrupt. Give your child the same respect you would give your boss, your preacher or a client. In turn, expect the same from your child and discuss different scenarios, such as interrupting when you are on the phone.

8. Emphasize the importance of respecting younger siblings. Establish a sense of "family," regardless of how near or far you are from home.

9. Make privacy a family affair. Encouraging children to knock before opening a closed door will help to avoid many embarrassing moments in the future.

10. Go to bed happy. Regardless of what has happened during the day, teach your children the importance of saying "I\'m sorry" if they have offended a family member or friend. It will result in a better night\'s sleep for everyone involved and will start a habit that will serve him or her well into the future.

Diane Gottsman is a nationally recognized etiquette and protocol expert who leads programs for children and adults. To read her previous columns, visit Etiquette Archives