Photo by Ralf Nau/Thinkstock by Getty Images
When children are little, those spaghetti-stained faces, greedy grabs for the crackers, and startling mid-meal burps are adorable. By age 5, not so much. At 15? It’s sloppy behavior to be banned — stat! Enter educational and etiquette consultant Rachel Isgar.
Isgar’s El Segundo, California-based company, Please Pass the Manners, teaches children ages 5 to 18, as well as adults, how to be respectful and handle themselves in any social situation. But the grace guru tells Yahoo Parenting that moms and dads can create polite little people at home just as well with one simple trick: relentless reminders.
“Consistently telling kids to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ works like a charm,” declares the mother of four, who even pretends not to hear her kids when they don’t use the P-word. “It is draining sometimes. My youngest is seven and I’m just now seeing it start to pay off. But when you stick with it, you truly see results.”
To build upon these basics and develop lifelong skills (think: table manners, eye contact, being able to introducing yourself, and having a confident handshake), you should make learning manners fun. Behold Isgar’s most successful strategies:
Turn etiquette into a game. The educator asks her younger children and students to go around the dinner table a couple of times and answer silly quiz questions about everyday manners. “I tell them, ‘You’re going to a restaurant,’” she says. “‘Do you, A: Hold the door open for the person behind you? B: Ask someone to open it for you? or C: Stick your foot out and tell people to hop over it to get inside?’ Kids love the game. And it’s a fabulous way to teach because they don’t really think they’re learning,” she says. Teens, on the other hand, she just tricks. “I say, ‘Tell me about some embarrassing behavior you’ve seen,’” Isgar explains. “I get a conversation started, and try to encourage them to share lots of examples so we can address what’s appropriate to do and not to do.”
Have kids set the table at home. The expert makes an art project out of it, by helping kids create place-setting diagrams using markers or crayons on a table-size piece of paper, which can then be laminated. It becomes a fun template to use as guidance again and again, helping kids to learn which utensils go where and what they’re all for. “When you call it a project, kids like it,” she explains. “Getting their buy-in really helps.”
Play Restaurant. Invite the family to a “night out” at home, pretending it’s a special evening, just so you can use the social skills they’ve been practicing — from ordering food to passing it. “This one works especially well with girls because they love to get dressed up for it,” she jokes.
STORY: Students Might Be Learning Body Shaming From Moms
Be the change you want to see. “Kids always follow the example of their parents, so model proper manners,” Isgar advises. Translation? Turn off the iPhone at dinner. Chew with your mouth closed. And dole out as many mentions of “please” and “thank you” as you expect to hear. “Telling your child to do something you aren’t doing yourself just isn’t going to work,” she says.