By Mary Jo DiLonardo
From burping in public to not shaking hands, kids and good manners aren't always a natural fit. With every nose pick it may seem like a losing battle, but there are ways to turn your little monsters into civilized human beings.
Here are three no-fail suggestions from the manners gurus.
Good: Tell Stories
You can't really preach manners. Kids will only hear, "Blah, blah, blah." Instead, pepper your teaching with cool (and kind of weird) trivia about manners, suggests Peggy Post, a director of the Emily Post Institute and the author of more than a dozen books about etiquette. The stories will stick with them and help them remember to do what you're advising.
Let's say you want your kids to make eye contact and firmly shake hands when they meet people. But why do we shake hands? "You put out your hand to show you're not holding a weapon -- or at least that's what they did in medieval times," says Post.
And what about wanting kids to remove their ballcaps at the table? That polite practice also stems from the time of knights, who removed their helmets or lifted their visors at the table so people would know whether they were friend or foe. Talk of weapons and knights will keep kids intrigued enough to pay attention to your lessons about good manners. "Kids love those stories, and they don't forget them," says Post.
Better: Put It To Music
Kids (especially boys) adore body noises. If sounds aren't coming out of their mouths, they're coming out of their bottoms -- and that's obviously not great manners in public. Children's- and business-etiquette expert Patricia Tice, Ph.D., owner of Etiquette Iowa, doesn't ignore the noises. Instead, she puts what she calls "bottom burps" and "upper burps" into song in order to teach kids how to handle them.
To the tune of "Frère Jacques," for example, Tice instructs her kiddie clients to sing: "Chew it quietly. Chew it quietly. Do not slurp. Do not slurp. We must say, 'Excuse me.' We must say, 'Excuse me.' When we burp. When we burp." For sound effects, the kids make slurping and burping noises as they sing along.
Tice also suggests adding a health and manners lesson along with the song. "I teach [kids] that we take in food for our bodies because it's fuel," she says. "It helps us think. It helps us play sports. But when our body is using that fuel, it sometimes has to do an upper burp or a bottom burp. That's OK. You just want to be careful that you don't do it to offend other people."
Best: Host A Rehearsal Dinner
OK, let's say you want to go to a sit-down restaurant without having your kids act like heathens. So: Practice at home first. Use real dishes and glasses, cloth napkins and a tablecloth, and maybe even have everyone dress up.
Set a few clear dinner-table-manners rules. Some basics include saying "please" and "thank you" when asking others to pass items, chewing with your mouth closed, not talking with your mouth full, and holding utensils like a pencil instead of a shovel. Once everyone follows the rules successfully, the whole family wins! The prize? A good dinner at a cool restaurant... including dessert!
"Don't harp on every little thing and be a drill sergeant," advises Post. "Table manners aren't something innate. We used to eat with our hands. It's progressed into a way of getting food into our mouths without grossing other people out."