Five Day Manners Makeover for the Holidays
The holidays are coming! Decorations are popping up everywhere. Holiday music is playing in stores. People are planning turkey dinners. Families will be traveling to visit families. Parents may be stressing. And kids are beside themselves with excitement.
Parents ask me, “What can we do? The kids are wild, and we’ve left table manners by the wayside. Is it too late?” No, it’s not too late to spruce up the manners you want your children to know before the craziness sets in. You can help them by sharing a five-day manners makeover before Thanksgiving and Christmas.
No more than one hour a day. Make it fun. And talk with your kids about manners. Ask them why manners are important and which ones they think make the most sense. Help them understand this isn’t about “rules,” it’s really about how we get along with each other. The goal is to make this a positive experience and then to enjoy the holidays!
Day 1: Table Manners
Holidays typically mean meals; meals mean table manners. So let’s begin there:
Practice setting a simple table setting: fork on the left, knife and spoon on the right (knife next to the plate), glass on the right above the knife and spoon. (The kids can help with the table decorations – make holiday place cards, ask the kids to make up a seating plan, create a special holiday centerpiece – not so high you can’t see over it!)
Then review the basics and practice, practice, practice:
- Wash up.
- Napkin in lap.
- Wait until all are served or the hostess begins to eat.
- Please and thank you.
- Hold utensils properly.
- Chew with your mouth closed.
- Offer to help clear.
- Thank you to the cook!
Day 2: Table Conversation
The art of dining includes several things: the table setting which brings order and beauty, the menu which delights the taste buds, and the conversation that brightens the day! The following tips will help your children learn the art of table conversation.
- Talk to people on both sides of you and across the table.
- Volume: Not too loud; not too soft.
- Don’t talk with your mouth full! (If it’s a problem, try putting a mirror in front of your child during a meal, so she can see how it looks.)
- The art of small talk: Suggest topics like the weather, sports, local events, school and then practice. Avoid questions that can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.” Instead use who, what, where, when, and how. Here are some practice questions. Help your kids make up their own:
- “What did you think of the ball game last night?”
- “What was the sledding like after that snow storm?”
- “I heard you won the state spelling bee last week! That is so cool…What comes next?”
- “Mom says you went to Spain last summer. Can you tell me about it?”
- Avoid talking about personal family issues.
Practice at each meal this week. Who knows? Maybe you’ll learn something about your children you didn’t know. And, better yet, maybe they’ll learn something about you!
Day 3: Gifts You Don't Wrap
We all love to wrap gifts, but some of the things we can give at the holidays can’t be wrapped. By spending an hour with your children and talking about this concept, you will raise their consciousness about these special gifts.
- Helping out
- Preparing for company
- Helping with shopping
- Cleaning the house
As part of the discussion you have with your kids, create a list of these special gifts that they would like to give. Include the “gift” and who it’s for, when and how they’ll give it, and how they think it will be received.
Day 4: Greetings and Handshakes
Greetings and handshakes are social skills – and like every skill it takes practice to get them right and to feel comfortable using them. Also, it’s much easier to learn and practice with someone you know well so try out that greeting and handshake in familiar settings with friends and family.
Let me say it again! Practice with siblings, neighbors, and dolls and stuffed animals – every day!
- Look them in the eye and SMILE!
- Speak clearly
- Say the person’s name
- Add a “Glad to see you” or “How’s it going?”
- If it’s a relative or close friend, add a hug.
- Right hand to right hand – palm to palm; thumbs up
- Firm grip – not too tight; not too limp
- Two to three pumps then release
History of handshake: In olden days, knights extended a hand to show it did not hold a weapon and they were approaching as friends not enemies. The other person responded showing he didn’t have a weapon either. The handshake was a gesture of friendship in the olden days and still is today.
Greetings and handshakes are skills that will serve your children well far beyond the holiday season so take this opportunity to be intentional about teaching them. It’s really a gift for them from you!
Day 5: Giving and Receiving Gifts
Gift Giving - In order to help your kids learn the joy of giving make the time to have them participate in gift shopping or making gifts they will give during the holidays. Then practice these interactions:
- Look at the person and smile.
- Hand them the gift and say clearly, “This is for you. I hope you like it.” Or “Here, I made this especially for you.” Help your kids with the language of giving.
- Watch the person open their gift and feel the delight that comes with giving.
Gift Receiving - Remind the kids that when someone has given them a gift, she has spent some time picking it out, wrapping it, writing the card, or maybe even making the gift. It’s important to show your care and respect by opening the gift with a sense of joy and then expressing thanks!
- Look at the person giving you the gift and smile.
- Focus on the person and the gift – not something you opened just before.
- Thank you, thank you, thank you. We don’t express our appreciation enough and you can’t stress it enough with your children! If you can’t thank the giver in person send a note right away!
- (If they don’t like the gift, teach them to find the positive thing they can say, to say it, and then to say thank you. “This shirt is the best color blue. Thank you so much.”)
Five days; five lessons – with these basics your children will do well during the holidays. They know what’s expected and they have the skills to meet those expectations. They know what they can expect from others. There is a confidence that comes from the knowledge.
Approach this time together positively. Engage your kids in conversation about ways to make things smooth with people they know well and people they are meeting for the first time. You’ll be making the holidays less stressful for yourself and your children.
Happy Holidays from all of us at The Emily Post Institute!