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Be Our Guest: Social Skills For Children Part Three

Say thank you to your hostess; receive the food that is offered; engage in conversation with the other guests; use nice table manners. These basics will take your child a long way and help them be welcome anywhere they go!

As a Southern Belle in recovery, there are a lot of cultural details that I struggle to keep under control as I interact with my friends who don't understand. Good manners for a southern lady of a certain age are more than just expected, they are required. And by good manners, of course, I mean the manners that my mama and all other southern mamas taught. And their mamas before them.

For example, in my world there is only one correct way to set a table: fork on the left, knife on the right (blade pointing inward) spoon to the right of the knife, napkin under the fork, and it must be cloth and coordinated with the table cloth. And if your southern belle identity is a bit extra you know exactly where the salad fork and dessert fork go. And, if you are from Texas, as all my people are, you know what an iced tea spoon is and what it looks like. You can see that a lot of time goes into driving southern women to the brink of insanity over table settings.

In addition to knowing about correct table settings (and SO much else) there are a large number of never will I evers. Things like this: never will I ever cross my legs at the knees while sitting. One ankle is crossed over the other and the feet are drawn toward one side of the chair, knees together. Never will I ever apply lipstick in public. Ever. Never will I ever wear white between labor day and memorial day. The list is pretty impressive.

There are a whole lot of these rules, but that is not why you are here today. You are here to read about what the children you love can do to be welcome guests wherever they go. Parents want their children to be enjoyed by family and friends so it is a good idea to spend a bit of time explaining to your children how they can behave when they are guests.

Even a very young child can learn to sit at the table with others, hold their fork correctly (in their dominant hand, palm up) and experience few spills. By the time a child is three they can know that throwing food is simply not done under any circumstances. They can be learning conversational skills including waiting their turn to speak.

Teaching your children to eat at the table using good manners is pretty straight forward. Begin by eating at the table together each and every day at least once. Begin when they are able to physically sit in a high chair. Even if you feed the baby before hand, give the baby a place at the table with you.

I consider the act of eating together the most defining aspect of family life. As you go through each meal, quietly and calmly show your children how to hold a spoon without gripping it like a tennis racket. They can begin to learn this before they are two. In fact, it is easier then.

If you are from the south they can also begin to learn how to hold a napkin in their lap during the meal, placing it on the table after. This is easier with cloth napkins. You will be amazed how well and quickly your child can learn these simple manners. Model these and encourage your children to follow your lead. Actually, I think that people use napkins in other parts of the world, so go ahead and teach this even if you're not from the south. It comes in handy.

Beyond table manners are the basics of introducing yourself to other guests (here's the link to my blog on helping your child become comfortable with this)

and saying hello to the hostess/host. Being a good guest also means making sure that you are following the rules of the house, using kind words and being aware of your circumstances. And the most important thing of all is to say, "Thank you." any time you are offered anything. If you are allergic to it, you say, "No Thank you." It is pretty simple.

When my children were young, I had two categories of manners that I used as the extreme ends of the manners continuum. These were "Dinner At The White House" manners and "Football Game" manners. So when we were going anywhere I could tell the children that our manners where we were going are to be more like a football game, or more like the white house and they could have a way to understand the expectations going in.

Good manners are often very specific to a culture or a situation. But some things are universal: allowing others to speak, eating carefully and quietly, using utensils properly, speak to people who speak to you, and when all else fails, smile and be pleasant. Teach your children these things with patience, perseverance and praise. Don't give up. If your children have these basics it is a good start.

It is so helpful for your children to know while they are still young that their actions affect others and have a powerful influence over how enjoyable any occasion will be for everyone. If you give your child the gift of knowing how to behave with kindness and consideration and very nice manners they will be given a gift that will open more doors than you can imagine. Make it a priority to teach this because if you don't, who else will?

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