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December 19, 2014

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Creating courteous kids: “Always set a good example”

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Leila Navidi

Students from Singapore learn the basics of dining decorum, including utensil use, during an etiquette dinner at the Stan Fulton Building at UNLV on Thursday, May 17, 2012.

It’s never too late to teach children their p’s and q’s. But you may need to brush up on your own manners first.

“The biggest thing about teaching manners to children is to always set a good example,” said Peggy Post, etiquette expert and co-director of the Emily Post Institute, which teaches social graces.

In other words, kids aren’t inclined to take etiquette seriously if lessons come from a mother who’s talking and chewing or a father who’s texting during dinner. What should children know beyond the basics of please and thank you?

At the dinner table:

Eat neatly

There’s a reason CEOs turn to the Protocol Etiquette School of Nevada-Las Vegas for pointers on table manners.

“You have to be able to dine in public, because that’s where all the deals are made — at the dining table,” owner Florozeen Rand Gray said.

But Post says table manners don’t come naturally.

“None of us is born learning how to chew with our mouths closed or use utensils,” she said.

A child as young as 2 can be instructed to eat politely. How? Post recommends gently patting the child’s chin when his mouth opens, while reminding him about the need for good manners.

Teach older children to keep their mouths closed by putting a mirror on the table so they can see how gross it is to chew with an open mouth or talk with a full one, Post said. By age 4 or 5, children should know to place napkins in their laps and use them to wipe their mouths but never their noses, Gray said.

Another tip: Don’t laugh at children who are being messy or noisy while eating. It will only encourage the behavior.

Talk softly

Teach children to keep their volume appropriate at the dinner table.

Instead of shushing your child, involve him or her in light table conversation, using the volume of voice you’d like them to emulate, Gray said.

“You want them to learn to interject themselves into the conversation without being rude,” she said.

Gray suggests parents teach children to begin, “excuse me for a moment, but I’d like to say,” before they speak.

Exit gracefully

Young children in particular often don’t have what it takes to sit through a long dinner, Post said.

“Teach them to say, ‘May I please be excused?’ ” she said. While the child still is at the table, try giving her a quiet toy to keep busy — crayons and paper or Play-Doh, for example. Don’t give her an iPad or phone, since using those at the table is considered rude, Post said.

Experts also recommend setting an egg timer in plain view so children know exactly how long they’re expected to sit quietly.

Elsewhere:

Write thank-you notes

Again, lead by example. Allow children to see you writing thank-you notes, and they’ll catch on.

Explain why it’s important — because it makes the gift-giver feel good — and get the child involved. Even young children can draw a picture, sign their name with a scribble, help affix a stamp or drop the note in the mailbox.

“Make it a process that the child is actually absorbing,” Post said.

By first grade, children should be able to write thank-you notes on their own.

Greet grown-ups

Children should know how to smile and make eye contact when meeting adults, and introduce themselves using their first and last names, Gray said. Teach children to stand up when adults enter the room.

Give shy children a chance to practice at home. By age 6, they should know how to shake hands.

“Start out with the whole idea that we have manners for a reason, and that is to build relationships,” Post said. “Learning these skills helps a child feel more confident.”

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