By the time a parent calls me about a “manners” class for his or her child, it is usually after a terrible incident and the parent wants to “punish” the child for the offensive behavior. Of course, manners classes should not be viewed as a punishment, and etiquette training should not be looked upon as an afterthought when all else fails.
Stressing common courtesy should start at a very early age. And its up to parents to be good role models from the day their bouncing baby arrives home.
As they grow, the first people children emulate in their behavior is typically their parents. You can’t emphasize patience to your teenager and then scream and tailgate the person that just jumped in front of you on the highway. If you don’t want your 7-year-old daughter to be unkind to a friend or your 13-year-old to gossip about her friends, you had better watch your own language.
The June 7, 2004, issue of Time magazine states that “increasingly it seems the gray hairs that parents once got from fretting over why Johnny can’t read are now just as likely to sprout from anxiety about why he can’t behave.” Does this mean the parents of today are lacking or ignorant of social graces? No, not necessarily. However, information from mom such as “Sit up straight” or “Don’t eat with your fingers” is often not as well received as the same instruction from an outsider. Additionally, many educated adults never really learned “the rules” or have gotten lax and forgotten them.
But learning manners and etiquette aren’t just niceties, they are life skills. Even in today’s work world, technical skills and knowledge represent less than 15 percent of one’s value in obtaining a job, keeping a job or advancing in a job, according to research done by Harvard University, the Carnegie Foundation and the Stanford Research Institute. Meanwhile, more than 85 percent of job success is based on personal conduct (“soft skills”) and the ability to put others at ease.
There are rules that are the minimum that a young child should know. Following are a few basic etiquette tips that children age 5 and older should observe.
• Stand up. When meeting or greeting a friend, adult or family member, we should teach our children to stand up if they are sitting. This shows respect for themselves and others.
• Smile. It takes 72 muscles to frown and only 14 to curl your lips up into a smile. Showing some teeth helps make your smile look more genuine.
• Make eye contact. It gives the illusion of not caring or not being respectful when a child (or an adult) doesn’t look you in the eyes.
• Shake hands for all introductions. A medium firm handshake is a sign of respect. Avoid the limp, weak handshake or the break-your-hand handshake.
• Be aware of posture. Avoid dropped shoulders, leaning, hanging or slouching.
• Use honorifics. Call an adult by “Mr.,” “Mrs.” or “Ms.” unless otherwise instructed by both the adult and a parent.
• Use “please,” “thank you,” “excuse me” and “I’m sorry” on a regular basis.
We all experience awkward moments. Knowing the rules allows us to look, feel and be more self-confident, polished and graceful. Adults and children alike can all benefit from a little fine-tuning.