Wednesday, December 29, 2010

New Year's Resolutions

(Forgive us friends, for we have been negligent. It has been almost 2 months since our last post... Better late than never!)

As the New Year approaches, it is a good time to review some of last year’s social highlights and check for areas to change, improve or tweak. When this year’s holiday parties come to a close for 2010, there is opportunity to evaluate and take note of the value of one’s social skills.

All month long there have been episodes of individuals’ double-dunking, licking fingers at the table and the best, eating crudités directly over the platter as excess sauce was drooled right into the dip bowl (Yuck)! There were observable first dates with conversation flowing in only one direction, missed appointments and inappropriate attire at parties and social gatherings. During a shopping frenzy at a local shop, acceptable behaviors were replaced with nasti-tudes, observed when two women got into a vulgar verbal quarrel.

Friendships were strained by inappropriate comments, breakdown in communication and lack of sensitivity. Families were lax in extending common courtesies to one another. Bullies ruled in schools as administrators were in a quandary of how to handle situations. Words such as please and thank you often were forgotten in conversations and feelings were hurt. Sorry was often too late.

Farting and other bodily noises increased, becoming much more visible and acceptable on TV, in the movies and in comedy shows. Radios blasted in decibels so high, they registered on the Richter scale. Guests and hosts forgot their manners by having unrealistic expectations and making impossible demands of time and resources.

As cell phone technology improved and use was on the rise, basic etiquette spiraled downward exponentially. It was not unusual to dine with people texting at the table, conversing in loud tones in quiet or public places, and checking scores at social functions.

Conducting business in the waiting room of a doctor’s office was one of the many examples of lack of consideration.

As we move into the New Year, EtiKids invites everyone to think about adding a resolution that gives latitude to gratitude by incorporating a new social skill. Here are a few ideas!

Have a conversation without using the word “I”. Give others the leeway to share their thoughts, ideas and experiences. Listen more.

Add the magic words please and thank you in conversation, especially when talking to children. According to research, it takes 21 days to form a new habit. Use the next month to assure the addition of those words to daily vocabulary. Set the example, model the behavior and watch the words appear in the child’s every day language

Make a commitment to learn table manners. Give yourself the freedom to enjoy social situations where etiquette will come in handy be it a first date, business dinner, formal fundraiser or casual celebration.

Take time for pampering oneself. Getting enough rest and relaxation fosters patience and politeness with others.

Book an EtiKids party or class for your next home or school function. Any EtiKids workshop is a welcome and fun addition to an organization’s meeting, professional seminar or business event. Programs are fun, entertaining and filled with strategies to include etiquette in a corporate culture and everyday life.

Please let us know how you are doing. We invite you to share a success story or tell us how your resolutions are progressing. May the year bring joy, good health and peace to all….Thank you!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

To Chew or Not To Chew...

That is the question…

Kids put many objects into their mouths such as fingers, pen tops, pencil erasers, but one of the most socially acceptable items found in the oral cavity is chewing gum. A popular habit from the age of the caveman, it is often used to relieve stress, freshen breath, and may even prevent plaque buildup and gum disease. Studies by The Wrigley Science Institute (dedicated to studying gum), have suggested it may have an effect on appetite and memory. Not to mention that it is most helpful providing oral-motor stimulation to a child with sensory needs (talk to your Occupational Therapist about this). According to, over 100,000 tons of chewing gum are being consumed every year. It clearly provides enjoyment and sensory stimulation to many people. But... While gum can be useful, gum chewing can be one of the most annoying habits to watch.

Sticky and gooey, a piece of gum can be chewed for hours, used to blow bubbles or “put it on the bedpost overnight”** to resume chewing in the morning. It can end up on the bottom of an unsuspecting shoe, stuck in someone’s hair, strategically placed under a desk or plastered all over an unsuspecting face once the bubble bursts. It is pliable enough to stretch into long strands, twist into pretzels and can be used to make hideously loud clacking noises. Mostly, it is irritating to everyone else subjected to watching the monotonous chewing motion and listening to the sound effects of repetitive mastication. Since gum is not on the verge of extinction, should gum be banned or is there etiquette to chewing the rubber?

Two problems noted by Sheryl Eberly, author of 365 Manners Kids Should Know are the visual image and what to do after it’s been chewed (known as ABC gum). The most obvious solution is not to partake in the habit which is not really a viable alternative.

Following a few simple EtiKids' guidelines can help eliminate references to “chewing like a cow” or other ruminant animals from family, friends and teachers. Basically, chewing gum should be avoided in public places such as school, houses of worship, social events (weddings, birthday parties, theater), job interviews, private classes or studios, and any other place one may talk, eat or disturb others.

· Use small pieces one at a time, not giant wads that pad the cheeks. EtiKids stresses social skills and encourages behaviors that keep food inside the mouth. This is much easier to do if the mouth is not full. Bubbles are a no-no!

· Cracking gum and blowing bubbles is not an enjoyable experience for those not chewing. To be polite, refrain from such actions. The person on the left will be quite thankful.

· While chewing, lips should remain closed. This helps to eliminate sound effects. Chomping noises are never considered good manners.

· Share with friends. If one is tempted to slip a piece of gum into the mouth, make sure a piece is offered to accompanying friends.

· To remove gum from the mouth, place in a tissue and put in the trash. Please do not throw it in the toilet or spit it out. That’s a blog for another time!

Parents can set be helpful and set guidelines. Exaggerate for children what open mouth chewing looks like and discuss how it is perceived. Explain that it is difficult to remove if it gets on one’s clothes or in hair, and it should not to be swallowed.

Most important for safety, parents should remember choking is one of the leading causes of death to children that are age three and under. In addition to the usual dangers of hot dogs, peanuts and whole grapes, chewing gum is listed as a safety hazard by the American Academy of Pediatrics and should be a concern for parents. Be prepared, learn the Heimlich maneuver!


Oh-me, oh-my, oh-you
Whatever shall I do
Hallelujah, the question is peculiar
I'd give a lot of dough
If only I could know
The answer to my question
Is it yes or is it no

Does your chewing gum lose its flavour
On the bedpost overnight
If your mother says don't chew it
Do you swallow it in spite
Can you catch it on your tonsils
Can you heave it left and right
Does your chewing gum lose its flavour
On the bedpost overnight

Based on the 1924 original by Ernest Hare & Billy Jones, "Does The Spearmint Lose Its Flavor On The Bedpost Overnight? (Marty Bloom / Ernest Breuer / Billy Rose)

Lonnie Donegan - 1958 (Also recorded by: Ding Dongs)

Monday, October 18, 2010

Don't Yuck My Yum

Yuck! Everyone has heard the word, spoken the word or wanted to say it at least one time. It could happen eating a family dinner, tasting a new restaurant dish, sampling an unlucky-pot dish or simply nibbling at a bad meal in the home of a friend. Adults think “Yuck, this taste’s awful,” and a child might exclaim, “This is yucky!” The burning question: does one actually have to eat the food, or is there a socially acceptable way to deal with the “yuck?”

The bad food situation can arise either at home with family or in public. Often, one look at a dish with a unique presentation (fish with the head attached) or hearing the inclusion of an unusual ingredient (sardines) is enough to cause the exclamation “Yuck!” Begin exposing children to different kinds of foods at an early age, as that is the time they are most impressionable. Studies have shown that children need to be exposed to new foods 10 times before actually being able to decide whether or not they like it. Therefore, introduce it in fun and different ways. Just in time for the Halloween season are Chocolate Avocado Cupcakes with Avocado Buttercream Frosting, which can be found on the blog Chocolate and Tea (avocados are seriously mystical foods!).

Another way to lessen the stress of unwanted/"yucky" foods at mealtimes: engage children by planning meals together. Use a food chart, shopping for ingredients and teaching them how to make healthy food decisions, which will ultimately prepare children to make better choices for themselves.

Finally, parents can explain that the word “yuck” is not an acceptable way to describe food on the table and provide a suitable alternative response. If the child does not wish to try something, a simple No Thank You will suffice. After all, not wanting to sample a dish does not mean that manners should be lead astray!

It is important for children to realize a meal takes time and effort to concoct. Our EtiKids can understand preparation communicates caring for others and makes people happy. Expressing feelings by making faces or describing how yucky the food tastes is hurtful behavior and should not be excused. It is also important to be sensitive to other people's feelings; everyone does not have the same interests in food, and various choices should be respected. In EtiKids, one of our favorite phrases is "Don't Yuck My Yum!"

At the home of a friend or in a restaurant with other people, there is ample opportunity for exposure to strange or unusual foods. First, one should never say “yuck” out loud. Second, “Thank you, I’ll try a little,” is the perfect way to accept a small helping if it is a new food or one is unsure of the taste. If the flavor is too strong or tastes unpleasant, one can hide the fact by playing and pushing small pieces around the plate. Please do not feed the pet as many animals have allergies and can become very ill. Spitting into a napkin is never good manners!

Individuals with food allergies, medically restricted diets can say, “It looks delicious, but I am gluten free.” For ingredients which are unknown or suspect, “No thank you, I have a food allergy,” is a polite and acceptable answer.

As grownups, set an example and be a role model; try new foods and experiment! Try to sample different dishes and be open to new tastes and textures... But please, Don't Yuck My Yum!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Name Game

Walking into a favorite department store with one’s best friend in search of a brand new pick-me up mood lipstick, two pair of eyes immediately scan for the cosmetics department. Blocking the path? A multicolored colossal flower-print dress and flashy gold handbag furiously gesticulate within the sight line. All motor and visual motion abruptly stops. In a flash palpitations patter feverishly, saliva drips from the sides of the mouth and an overwhelming sense of panic develops. As The Dress moves closer, it is apparent... You don’t remember her name. You should know it, as introductions will need to be made. But at this moment, it has conveniently escaped. Introductions will need to be made. NOW WHAT?

Introductions are an important part of making new friendships and keeping them. There are times when introductions can be a challenge. One of the most embarrassing situations can be forgetting someone’s name. Regardless of age, it happens to everyone at one time or another. An introduction has to be made, memory fails, and suddenly a person’s name remains perched on the tip of the tongue. When this happens there are three ways to handle this:

Fess up! One can sincerely apologize and say to the person, “So very sorry for the absentminded moment, but I just forgot your name”. They may get miffed for the moment, but more often then not, they appreciate sincerity. Honesty pays and there was no running and hiding in the clothing rack to avoid saying hello! As you age, this begins to happen with increased frequency, so most people will be understanding, forgiving and may even laugh! ** (Caution: This will not work if it is a relative, child, spouse or close friend!)

Investigate! Is there someone nearby who may know who the person is? One can approach another person and simply ask, “Who is the person wearing the flowered muumuu?” This must be done quickly and discreetly but usually yields a positive result.

The Sting! This operation is a bit more complex and works on the principle that when a person meets someone, there will be mutual introductions. “Hi! We met at lunch last week. I’m Jamie, and this is my friend, Brett”. The logical response for person C is, “Yes, I remember. I’m Sam. It’s nice to see you again, Jamie, and a pleasure to meet you, Brett”. In a variation, Person A sends over Person B to introduce themselves hoping that person C will also reveal their name. Person B then reports back to person A.

To avoid forgetting an introduction, one can use memory tricks to help reinforce names. This is done by assigning a trait to the person such as Jerry has a big smile. Because Jerry and merry rhyme, the word association becomes Merry Jerry. Parents can teach and help build word associations for the children.

Whatever strategy one chooses to use, it is important to remember that people like to hear their names mentioned. Children can be taught to use the words ‘I’m sorry” or apologize for not remembering a name. That social skill is even more effective when made with eye contact! Role playing prior to a new social situation, where they are likely to meet new people, can help build confidence and increase the child’s level of comfort. Teaching children etiquette helps to prevent potentially awkward and uncomfortable situations. As we want children to meet success, we should prepare them (as best we can) for potential social mishaps and how to gracefully handle them.

OK… Now what were we talking about?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Potty Talk

Oh Sh#%! Da*& it! F#@*7! Hearing these words pop out of the mouth of a preschooler (or anyone else) can make hair stand straight out of one’s head. Needless to say, it usually happens at an inopportune moment such as a social gathering, in class, or at the dinner table! The 2-year-old shouting “Stupid head” or “Butthead” at passing cars usually triggers an instant alarm of fear as the parent realizes this could result in a carpool expulsion. Children are fascinated with “bad” words, and learn them quicker than their assigned vocabulary words. The initial response of laughter that the child receives is usually more than enough to fuel continuous repetitions of the offending language. The worst part is this negative behavior will take exponentially longer to break!

The issue raised is not just limited to curse words. Bathroom or potty language and words which EtiKids refers to as S-words (stupid, sh*t, sucks, and shut up) can also be a problem faced by a parent or teacher. Older children may think it is “cool” to use words that describe bodily functions and noises, while younger children mimic what they hear. Sometimes repeating bathroom words is a way to get a reaction or gain attention. Realize it is a way of experimenting with language. So, if trying out new words and learning how to communicate are part of learning social skills and manners, what is the best way to re-train a potty mouth child?

Displaying a lack of interest is the simplest tactic to phase out incessant repetition of naughty expressions. Without strong feedback, most preschoolers won’t bother repeating these terms. Why bother if you can’t get a rise out of parents?

Ask the child what the word means. Discourage use of words whose meanings are unknown. Explain why some words are offensive and hurtful to other people. X-rated vocabulary and forbidden words are not “cool” and can be banned by parents because they are inappropriate in almost all situations.

Restrict bathroom words to the restroom. After a while, the child typically finds it tiresome to run back and forth to the lavatory just to talk about bodily functions and spill out potty words.

Control word categories that are on the fringe. Growing up, the use of "S-words" was not tolerated. These expressions included: stupid, sh*t, sucks and shut up. Although the latter has become an acceptable phrase of surprise (or synonym for no kidding), telling someone to “shut up” is perceived as rude and insensitive.

Monitoring TV programs can limit some exposure to words with derogatory meanings such as “butthead”, which became popular terminology following MTV's programming. Remind children that using insulting words or expressions can become a habit, slipping out without any warning and be embarrassing for everyone.

Although the word hate has different meanings, we mention it here. It can be used in a spiteful manner and is a learned behavior. Shouting “I hate you!” to a parent is universal to children all over the world. A little 4-year-old friend repeated her mother’s favorite quote, “Hate is a very strong word, and we should never use it!” The More You Know public service campaign, (NBC 2003) reminded us, "Hate is a four-letter word. So is love. Which word will you teach your child?"

Finally, the very best way to diminish the use of negative words is to set a positive example for children. Replace curse words with alternative phrases such as “Darn it! Dang! Good Grief! Geepers Creepers! Rats! Shucks!”

Let us know your favorite expression! Or most inappropriate story. :) Contact us at Dear Julie or with your stories.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Hole's Not Big Enough?

People come in a variety of colors, sizes and shapes and often face difficulties during their lifetime. Some of these challenges may be emotional while others are more physical and visually apparent. It always seems children are most astute in noting all our differences. Some comments are positive observations: a teacher’s new hairdo or mom’s new dress. More often than not, these comments are made verbally at higher than normal decibels, in extremely trafficked areas, and simply embarrassing. “Why is that man so much smaller than me?” “Look at the lady with no hair!” Certainly there are a multitude of examples to share that just “pop out” of a child’s mouth. How do you address the child’s remark without squelching curiosity, teach an important social skill and maintain a semblance of sanity?

First, if the comment was audible, offer apologies immediately. “I would like to apologize for the comment that was made,” is one way to express your regret. This clearly serves as an example of sensitivity, provides an atmosphere of understanding and models a social skill. Softly assure the child everything will be explained in a more appropriate place. Then address the issue immediately. Using a concrete example helps children conceptualize information with greater ease. Find a quiet place where the child can sit and ask a few questions. More often than not, a simple explanation is all that is required. Don’t worry the beet red color disappears quickly!

Second, open the discussion by asking about feelings. “What would it feel if a person said something unkind or hurt your feelings?” Offer the child an opportunity to whisper something softly if they need to ask a question. This way feelings won’t be hurt. Sheryl Eberly, author of 365 Manners Kids Should Know, explains that “people with disabilities don’t want to create a scene wherever they go and shouldn’t have to explain their situation to strangers.” Throughout the EtiKids program, focus is placed on similarities people share and identifying the way differences enhance our environment and our world.

Many school programs now offer sensitivity training by using wheelchairs, earplugs to simulate situations facing people with disabilities. Ask the child to use one hand or keep eyes closed while picking up their toys to experience a little of the physical challenges that exist.

Third, examine personal perspectives. Many times we are unaware of nonverbal information transmitted to others. Any actions (eye rolling, head shaking, frown or scowl) or comments which highlight negative perceptions are easily and rapidly adapted by children. Dr. Haim Ginott compares children to wet cement. “Whatever falls on them makes an impression.” Why are bad habits learned so much quicker than good ones? Opening the door for someone in a wheelchair, helping someone who can’t reach an item on a top shelf in the grocery store, or complimenting someone’s new outfit can help a child see what positive social norms dictate.

Children aren’t the only ones making mistakes. Adults sometimes share inappropriate comments and may benefit from a manners makeover too. “You are really that old?” “Why did you get fired from your job?” “Sally is so fat!” Taking the time to consider how a comment will impact someone else can prevent hurt feelings and serve as a model to children. When we err, the quickest, most effective and easiest way to remedy a situation is just to say, “I’m sorry”.

Share your harrowing story with us at Dear Julie or Remember Mark Twain’s quote, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Sleepover and Out!

Remember how scary it was to sleep at a friend’s house for the first time? There was fear of not knowing where the bathroom was, waking up in the middle of the night and wanting to go home. What if food tasted funny or you got a bellyache in the middle of the night? Even more worries surfaced when the bathrobe, dangling on the door, appeared to be a ghost. Sometime during the day, while playing with lots of different toys, the idea of turning the playdate to a sleepover seemed like a good idea. Now what?

Pack those pajamas! Create a simple list so children can participate in the packing process. This allows the child to become an active, willing and responsible participant. It also helps kids know what they will have to unpack when returning home. A teddy bear or favorite book can help ease the transition. Packing personal care items will be appreciated by the host, who won’t have to supply toothpaste, toothbrush, or other toiletries.

Dress in the best manners
: Leave bodily noises like farting or burping for the bathroom. Play fair and include the host’s runny-nose brother or squealing sister in games. Secrets are for sissies and make others feel bad. Remember to ask before using the phone or taking something out of the refrigerator. Absolutely and positively respect privacy. Resist the urge to peek or snoop into the belongings of other people.

Neatness counts.
Ask the host where to place the overnight bag. Encourage children to keep all their clothes and toys in or on the suitcase. Leaving shoes and stinky underwear all over the house will not earn a return invitation. A sleepover is not a scavenger hunt for dirty clothes or an excuse to mess up someone else’s room!

"With a butterfly kiss and a ladybug hug, sleep tight little one like a bug in a rug." (Author: Unknown) Bedtime usually comes right in the middle of a favorite TV show or winning game. Parents know that chattering and giggling are part of every sleepover, but they won’t want to be on patrol all night long. When the host parent says “Bedtime for teddy bears and all other little children,” the guest should start to get ready for bed, even if the host child runs around the house like a wild animal!

Not all families are the same. As a guest, one should keep an eye on the customs of the house. Politely follow the bedtime ritual of the house, which may include bedtime snack, teeth brushing, and bedtime story.

EtiKids stresses the use of please, thank you, excuse me and sorry in all social situations. Reinforcing these words at home helps them become an integral part of the child’s vocabulary. “Thank you for inviting me to sleep at your house” can be followed up with a written note to encourage politeness, writing and social skills. Remember, even though a child may not always express their gratitude at home, they are capable of thanking their host, learning to be a gracious guest and helping with simple and caring tasks.

With all of the helpful information above, your child is ready to put it into practice. As stated in Maurice Sendak’s book, Where the Wild Things Are, "Let the wild rumpus begin!"

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


What is it about gossips that make them so bad? After all, it is only words that are used in gossiping (sharing a rumor or personal story belonging to someone else). Once words are spoken, they cannot be recycled, erased, collected, expunged, obliterated or changed. Passing along information spoken in confidence or that may have heard from someone else can hurt another person very badly. Sometimes it can backfire and put the person who spread the story in trouble too!

Being sensitive to the feelings of others can be a useful guide. Putting oneself in the shoes of another can help understand how it may feel! Sharing information that is personal, health or job related should be left to the individual if and when they are ready to share the information.

Some quick tips...

If the information seems too personal, keep it to yourself.
If the information is hurtful, don’t pass it along.
If the information serves a malicious purpose, break the chain.
If the information can affect someone’s livelihood, don’t repeat it.

Leticia Baldridge, author of the Complete Guide to Executive Manners cautions, “Think before you participate in gossip, either by adding to it or by reinforcing it, even if you believe it to be true.” Time is spent building self esteem and making good decisions; choose what appropriate dialogue. Emphasis is placed on doing the right thing such as refusing to listen to the idle chatter, redirecting conversation to other topics, walking away or taking a leadership role by defending the target of the gossip by saying, “I don’t think Jane or Bob would want this to be discussed”.

Parents can set an example for their children by diffusing gossip-y conversations. Change the topic to something less volatile. Explain that the information may be incorrect and should not be further transmitted. Discuss feelings regarding communication of personal information. Clarify how easily rumors begin and the damaging effects they can have on a person (consider role-playing). If this seems confusing, perhaps a class that enables children to focus on the positive development of their social skills, such as learning to converse, rather than the spread of vicious gossip is in order. Contact EtiKids for more information!

Think of your mother's words: if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Plane Truth About Flying

The internet is flooded with travel specials and more people are taking to the air. Airlines are filling planes to capacity leaving little leg room, decreasing services and increasing charges. While the weekend or holiday get-way can be a challenge, taking a child or two can test the mettle of the calmest individual. There are helpful hints and plane etiquette tips to make travel less stressful, a positive experience for children and an enjoyable pastime for all passengers.

Magic words, including Please!, apply in all situations. EtiKids emphasizes use of the words please, thank you and excuse me in all situations. Remembering to say please to attendants when requesting service or thank you to the pilots for a safe flight are common courtesies appreciated by staff. However, we caution the overuse of excuse me as a child repeatedly kicks the passenger seat in front of them or the window passenger marches frequently in and out of the row!

Define your space and stay within the limits. No one wants appendages flailing, sweaty body parts touching, and aisle passengers leaning to peer out the window, invading personal space. Bring reading materials or work that fit on a tray table. Use an arm rest to help define boundaries. Climbing over a sleeping passenger is a no-no! Gently wake them and excuse yourself before passing knee to knee.

Be kind to your fellow passengers. Personal hygiene prior to flying is paramount; perfume or cologne in closed quarters is not the answer to body odor. Christopher Elliot, travel columnist reinforces this in his column, 5 Ways travelers Have Lost Their Manners. The contributor writes, “One of the most common complaints I get about inconsiderate travelers is the way they smell”. Do your nails at home, not in the cabin of the plane. Keep idle chatter to a minimum especially when your neighbor is not interested in conversing. Turn down the volume of headphones- opera may not be for everyone!

Maintain parenting skills at all times. To keep children happy, keep them occupied. Offer food, games and treats special for the airplane. Keep the noise level of electronic games on mute or lower sound to minimum even when using earphones. Running in the aisles is dangerous, disruptive and not an appropriate activity for the plane. EtiKids' focus on social skills includes making time to practice age appropriate social skills and discuss expectations prior to taking flight.

Children can learn the joy of travel at an early age. Offer guidance and allow them to make choices about what they will bring. Let them benefit from the responsibility of carrying a small backpack or suitcase with wheels. Vacations can be relaxing and fun with a little planning.

I hope the Plane Truth was helpful. Happy Flying!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Be A Host With The Most

Do you love the idea of entertaining but stress once people accept your proposed engagement? Most people don't realize that a considerable amount of planning is required to become the "host with the most." Visiting someone’s home can be a satisfying experience for both guest and host; responsibilities for the host begin by extending a sincere invitation. Choose a group that will have fun together and share a common interest. As RSVP’s are received, ask about any dietary restrictions or allergies (this includes pet allergies too!)

Organize. Organize. Organize. Use lists for the menu, cleaning and delegate assignments. For those individuals offering to bring something, politely provide guidance or assign a complimentary side dish. Prepare as much as possible ahead of time to decrease stress and increase enjoyment.

Greet everyone warmly and help them feel welcome by making introductions and smiling. Offer interests as topics of discussion.

Provide appetizers and/or drinks as soon as guests arrive. Who wants to drive for 45 minutes and not even get a glass of water?

Be a schmoozer and socialize with everyone. Pull those who may be isolated or uncomfortable into the folds of conversation.

Make sure guests leave safely. Walk everyone to the door as visitors exit. Thank them for coming.

The success of a gathering lies in the company of those invited. Although parties often include food, the laughter, pleasant conversation, and sharing of good times are what make the experience gratifying for everyone.

Creating that comfortable environment is the job of the host. Children can learn those skills by observation and practice. Give them a task to perform. Each child can be given age-appropriate activities and are more than capable of assisting in the kitchen. Tasks include: setting the table with some guidance, greeting guests and helping them find their seating. Create opportunities to participate in conversation – rather than monopolize -and practice using their good manners prior to having any visitors. These social skills and more are learned in EtiKids classes.

As Emily Post said, “Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use!”

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Be Our Guest, Be Our Guest

Being a good guest can take almost as much practice, forethought and preparation as a host. Whether it is an invitation for a casual dinner, formal party, weekend visit or extended stay, the best barometer to gauge visitor skills is receipt of a return invitation. In other words, if it has been a successful visit, the person will be asked to do this again.

A few key ingredients to guest etiquette can help assure that your company will be welcome at another time. While some may appear to be obvious, this list contains components worth repeating…

1. Respond to invitations in a timely manner. No one wants to guess how many people will be arriving, staying or eating.
2. Use the words please and thank you. No one is too old for the magic words.
3. Eliminate slurping and bodily noises. If necessary, ask to be excused and go into the bathroom to release all the bodily fumes, gases and fluids!
4. Be prompt. Respond when dinner is ready.
5. Offer assistance as needed. Try to be helpful if you see the host can use an extra pair of hands.
6. Respect other people’s property. No snooping in bathroom cabinets, drawers and closets!
7. Be considerate of resources. Turn off lights, water faucets, and take short showers.
8. Follow the culture of the home. Every home has there own unspoken rules, take note by observing the actions of others in the house.
9. Remember to thank the host for a lovely time. An appropriate, carefully chosen gift, such as chocolates, plants, wine and a written note, will always be appreciated.
10. Kindness goes a long way and guarantees a return invite!

Everyone seems to have jumped in on the etiquette bandwagon. Susan Blond's blog for the Village Voice offers tips to visitors and a litany of humorous suggestions for the weekend guest, such as feet off the furniture and certainly no picking at them!

Think about experiences that you have had and practice the positive. Envision the type of guest you would like to host and become that person. To help children meet success as their role of “guest,” role-play responses to situations that may arise in the homes of others. Teaching them the social skills at an early age will certainly ensure that their presence will be welcomed in the company of others in the years to come.

Finally, remember to have fun! Clearly the host enjoys spending time with you, which is probably why you were invited in the first place…

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Guest Post: The Value of Life Skills E-learning Programs for Preschool Children by: Jean Campbell

Young children don’t realize that they make choices every day…what toy to play with, sharing or not sharing a toy and eating or not eating what is put in front of them just to name a few.

Being able to make choices is empowering. That is the function of interactivity in E-learning programs. When a young child has the opportunity to experience the outcomes of making choices and sees the results immediately, it makes decision-making seem like a safe and good thing to do. It helps a child develop the confidence to make decisions in real-time situations.

We teach our children to be safe. We encourage them to share, to be a friend, to play fair, to be honest, and to behave well. We hope when they are faced with a situation that challenges what we have taught them, they remember what we said and make the right decision. Unlike riding a bike or crossing a street it is not possible to give our child practice runs in all the life skills situations they may encounter.

E-learning programs do just that; they give our children practice runs for making good choices when faced with life situations.

E-learning programs also have other attributes that make decision-making attractive to preschoolers. They ask the child using the program to help the animated, cartoon characters to make decisions. While this makes decision-making less personal to a child, it also fosters a sense of responsibility for helping a character make the right decision.

E-learning content is always consistent and is not affected by differences in an instructor’s performance resulting from tiredness or the time of the presentation. E-learning programs are less intimidating, as a child can make an incorrect choice and go back and correct it without feeling that others will know about it.

E-learning programs reinforce what is being taught through engaging the child in interactive decision-making. This reinforcement tends to result in higher content retention rates than a presentation that talks about life skills decision-making.

Jean Campbell is the creator of “Can Do” Street ( an E-learning site where young children learn to make good choices through using interactive programs, games, and activity downloads. There are lesson plans for teachers, as well as a blog for parents and teachers and children.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Promises, Promises

I promise to clean my room. I promise never to spit. I promise to take you to the game.
PROMISES are made daily. A promise lets someone know that something will or will not be done. Robin Thompson, author of Be The Best You Can Be – A Guide To Etiquette and Self Improvement for Children and Teens says “one of the best compliments to receive is that you keep your word.”

A promise is a pledge to oneself or someone else. According to "Why Keeping Your Promise Is Good For You" in Psychology Today, an unkept promise to someone may be misinterpreted or can communicate a negative message. Something else trumped the commitment. Others may perceive one is not responsible or dependable, even if the promise broken is small. Enough forgotten promises can spoil a relationship.

Sometimes a task or expectation may be overwhelming. Responses that utilize social skills may sound like, “I’m sorry I can’t,” “I apologize, but I am not comfortable with that,” or “I just won’t be able to take the time at this moment.” Make promises that can be kept or assure someone something will be completed only if that is the true intent. It is easier to let others know ahead of time that the task cannot be completed, so alternate plans can be arranged. Using manners to politely decline an invitation shows appropriate social etiquette as much as accepting.

Simple steps from to work on keeping a promise:
Assessing the situation, whether taking out the garbage or a deeper emotional commitment, one must ask if a conclusion will be possible. Next, make a list of what is needed to follow through to completion or integration into daily activities. Using a checklist can help one visualize accomplishments along the way; while notes help chart development. Finally, anticipating changes and communicating progress with others allows time for assistance if required.
In conclusion, children learn by example. Unfulfilled promises send inconsistent and mixed messages. Keeping our word builds character and reinforces concepts of responsibility, strong values and dependability. Promising a child a trip to the movies only after the toys have been cleaned up can work. I promise!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Tipping Etiquette

Tipping has become a widespread social custom of including extra payments to service-related industry workers. They are never required and vary by culture. Failing to give an adequate tip often violates etiquette standards. Knowing when and who to tip is always uncomfortable when you are unsure of who should receive it and the amount to delegate. Here are some basic rules of gratuity…

Service-related industries are built upon gratuities. The actual wages of the workers are extremely low, approximately $2, as employers factor in tips to the overall salaries of employees. If employers had to pay higher salaries because workers were not generating enough income from tipping, the costs of the said businesses would increase and no one would be happy. Therefore, one should always tip a bartender, taxi driver, delivery person, hotel maid and server but each one requires a different method. (Keep in mind that these are GENERAL rules of gratuity.)

o Tipping a bartender $1 per drink is usually sufficient.

o For a Taxi Driver, everyone has different ideas of right/wrong, but it is customary to give between 10% and 15% of the fare. Citidex has the New York City pricing guides.

o It is customary to tip a delivery person between $2 for small packages and $4-$5 if there are more. For large items, such as a bed, $10 is appropriate.

o Hotel maids/housekeeping should get $2-$3 per bed per night. The tips should be given each day. Check out’s Tipping Guide for Hotels by Charlyn Keating Chisholm.

o Servers typically receive between 15% and 20%. When calculating the tip, dividing the pre or post-tax dollar amount by 5 would provide you with a 20% tip. Dividing by 6 will give 17.5%→18% and diving by 7 will offer 15%.

o Tip Jars: Up to You… There is no steadfast rule about a tip jar next to a cash register. Although the trend has been popping up around pizzerias, Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks alike, do not feel obligated to contribute to the fund. At this juncture, many only tip if they receive exceptional service.

You may tip anyone who went above and beyond to help you. A tip is not only a cash gift but an acknowledgement of your appreciation for services rendered. Eye contact, a smile and a big thank you are also a must when someone does something for you.

Etiquette enables people to avoid uncomfortable situations by providing social standards. Setting a good example for kids by using and applying the behaviors will ensure that they will have the social skills to succeed in society in the future. PS- is a great resource to answer the rest of your burning questions about tipping.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Rules for Eating Utensil Placement

In the Dear Julie section of, a question was recently submitted about the placement of eating utensils. “Where are the utensils placed during and after a meal?”

As I had responded to the “anonymous” writer, the rules of dining etiquette are simple and finite. They clearly signify a brief pause in eating or the end of a delicious meal. Using proper dining etiquette ensures that the place setting, tablecloth and person’s lap stay clean throughout the meal. Therefore, used utensils should never be placed on the table.

Soup bowls are often brought on flat plates, which is where the spoons should be placed when the portion is complete. According to, the same is true for position of spoons for tea and shrimp cocktail forks.

When taking a break between bites, the fork should be placed on the left side of the plate and the knife on the right. This is because when one uses the knife and fork, the knife is held with the right hand (to slice), while the left hand holds the fork (to keep the the food in place).

If you would like a second helping, put the fork and the knife together on the right with the handles facing towards you. This will make room on the plate for another portion of food.

When finishing a delicious meal, Chef Albrich will tell you that the knife and fork should be placed parallel to each other with the handles pointing to the right. Jennifer Maughan will remind you to place them more towards the center, so they don’t fall off the plate when removed by a server.

Teaching children the three tricks to utensil placement will ensure that the social skills become an innate behavior. Children will not have to think about how to behave properly: they just will. They can teach their friends, the word will spread, and you will no longer have to worry about flying utensils when servers clear your place setting.

If you have an etiquette question, it can be answered for you! Go to the Dear Julie section of the website. All questions are anonymous; all tips are free!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Passing Etiquette

Sitting at the dinner table in a formal dining situation, many people are unaware of the rules that are in place for how to pass food. As etiquette was created to allow people to feel comfortable in social situations, knowing the informal rules will help when in a group setting.

According to Essortment, simple rules of handling:

1. says to always serve the woman at the right of the host and all of the women thereafter, feeding the men last. Modern manners dictate that when passing serving dishes around the table, everything initially goes to the right.

2. When someone asks you to pass the salt, pass the salt and pepper. It is like getting two for the price of one!

3. If someone asks you to pass a dish, do not help yourself to a serving until after that person has taken what they want.

4. As stated in The Art of Manliness, don't leave your seat and enter someone's personal space to reach for something. Just ask the nearest person to hand it to you. Please. Reaching across the table ensures that both you and your neighbor will be wearing your meal instead of eating it.

Children can abide by these rules as well. As they learn from modeling behavior, be sure to follow these rules of etiquette yourself. Insist that they also “use their manners” at dinner by practicing Passing Etiquette. Meal time will have far fewer spills and much less stress! And of course social skills will be at an all-time high...

Monday, June 28, 2010

Beach Etiquette 101

July 4th is right around the corner and the summer forecasts are indicating perfect summer-like conditions. Local shores have seen an increase in business with families committed to the stay-cation, thanks to the continuation of the economic conditions).

Although good manners should be practiced all year long, it seems especially important in the heat of the summer. Everyone attempts to take advantage of the weather, knowing that it ends with what seems like the blink of an eye. As the beaches tend to become more congested during prime sunning hours, some important basic beach etiquette tips to help everyone remember how to be a courteous neighbor to others.

1) People go to the beach because of the soothing sounds. Relaxing while listening to the crash of the waves and the call of the seagulls is peaceful and the epitome of summer: screaming children and loud radios are not. According to Quick and Dirty Tips, parents are in charge of their children’s noise level, and I couldn’t agree more. Children can be by the water splashing and having fun, as long as they are supervised, but they should not be where other beach-goers are resting comfortably on their mats, making their tantrums everyone else’s business. The same goes for radios or anything else that might disturb the peace: they are great for you to enjoy but not to impose upon others.

2) The cool ocean breezes are welcome on hot beach days; however, they exacerbate inconsiderate behaviors displayed by some. When shaking out the towel after it has been on the sand, please do it carefully, so as not to scatter the grains in people’s faces unexpectedly.

Smoking is also unwelcome by many. If you must get your nicotine fix, do it away from others, and make sure to dispose of your cigarette butts in the proper receptacle, the sand doesn’t count.

3) Clean up after yourself. As the Etiquette Grrls point out, nobody wants to choose their beach spot and settle in, only to discover it is on top of someone else’s garbage. The Golden Rule states: Do Unto Others As You Would Have Done To You: learn it, live it, love it.

4) You make it, you break it. Around the age of 3, kids experiment with building something and knocking it down. If they knock down someone else’s building/sandcastle, it is the perfect opportunity to explain that they don’t like it when other people do it to them. The child, with your assistance, can help rebuild the destroyed sand castle and create version 2.0. This will teach empathy and begin to construct a memory of how to handle a similar situation in the future. And yes, you can be sure that there will be similar situations.

5) Recycle! With the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill still raging out of control and threatening some of the most beautiful beaches, it is extremely important to try and preserve whatever natural resources are left. If we create less waste, our world will be a better place. Here are 2 additional reasons to recycle while on the beach: a) the extra 30 steps to the recycling bin provide additional opportunities for exercise and b) we teach children to do it, so we have to be consistent and model the behavior. Children will never learn to recycle if it is only done sometimes.

Have a great 4th of July weekend and be safe! Don’t forget the sunscreen…

Monday, June 21, 2010

Please (again!)

I recently did a survey on my website, The question was “do you make children say please when you ask for something?” Out of the responses, 58.3% said they do “all of the time.” 16.7% said “not as often as I should,” and 25% had other answers, including, “I will when I have a child!” and “Yes- but they are not my children…” 0% of the people said never!

The word “please” is to be used when you want something: to ask rather than to demand. That “magic word,” as it is often referred to for children, changes the tone of the sentence. An ultimatum begins to resemble a request, and the demeanor between the involved parties relaxes. A person is more willing to get the job done (with far less under-the-breath muttering) should that word be included.

The results of this poll should show just how hard it is to enforce that 1 word into daily vocabulary. Although it is amazing that more than half of the pollers are diligent about regularly enforcing the use of the word please, the 16.7% were brutally honest in their “not as often as I should” answers.

From an article on Parents Connect, Nanny Stella gives great advice for teaching children to use the word please (and thank you) in 3 steps: “1) show by example, 2) praise the pleases, and 3) be a broken record.”

Children truly learn from behavior being modeled, meaning, they learn by watching those around them. Control the market by showing them the behaviors that you want them to exhibit in public. If you want a child to hand you the cup of water instead of spill it, you should say, “Please hand me the water.” When the child uses the language on his/her own, praise him/her repeatedly. Positive reinforcement, is a highly effective way to teach children behaviors that you wish for them to continue without negative repercussions. Finally, if the child doesn’t use the word please, do not provide them with what they want until the magic word is said. For children, their new language can become innate with a bit of consistent practice. They will get it.

Children love challenges, so provide them the opportunity to rise to the occasion. Count how many people said, “please” when they asked for something, whether in a restaurant, in a classroom, in a store. Let the kids listen for the magic word, and let them watch people’s reactions when it is and is not used. Children can learn from their own recognition skills: why politeness matters.

Please is the most basic of social etiquette; the politeness displayed by the courtesy will open doors with its usage. Teaching children this social skill at a young age will ensure mastery and give them the tools to succeed as grownups.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Present Yourself Appropriately

"Gravel Girty... dresses dirty; hair a mess, tear in the dress.

Second glances, muffled gasps, nails need buffin’, Poor Rag-A-Muffin…

Dress for success, sure to impress; you can rule and still look cool!"

Present Yourself Appropriately:

First appearances are very important to both animals and humans alike. Animals (on a very basic level) use their image to attract mates (the biggest antlers get the girls) and claim status. The outer presentation for a human is necessary for both of those scenarios, as well as creating social status, and getting jobs.

Although outward appearances can often be deceiving, it is how humans most quickly form an opinion of another person. A first impression can be made with a simple glance, so think carefully how you want to portray yourself to others. There is no right or wrong answer; however, if you are covered with piercings, have a mohawk and torn clothes, chances are that you will be passed over for promotions in most conservative companies.

That being said, knowing dress attire of the social or business situation and dressing appropriately will help you feel comfortable in any circumstance and rise to the occasion. On April 12, 2006, Forbes Magazine published an article that relayed the necessary do's of dressing appropriately in Dress for Success. Most helpful in the article was a shopping list for proper work attire (a must read for men and women). Although it stressed simplicity, you may still feel that you need to stand out amongst the sea of black business suits. Accessorizing to maintain individuality is how you can conserve your sense of self, as well as manage to stay memorable. A red tie or glass-bead necklace is always a standout!

Teaching children at a young age to dress appropriately will save them a lot of discomfort later in life. As the grownup, it is your job to tell them when it is and is not a suitable time and place to wear their wants. Knowing limits and setting boundaries is what will make children successful as adults: they can always push the envelope should they choose, but it will be their choice.

However you present yourself, "Gravel Girty", or a "dresser for successor," it is and will be your choice to present yourself appropriately.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Knowing Your Napkin

I recently taught an etiquette class to a Brownie Troop in Bergen County, NJ, in which the subject of napkins came up. The question had been posed to the girls, “how do you know when to put your napkin on your lap?” The vivacious group of 22 looked pensive for a (brief) moment but quickly figured out the answer. “You wait for someone else to do it!”

That was a great idea, and according to some sources, correct! It is believed that one should wait until the host/hostess unfolds his/her napkin. The situation changes when not at a dinner party: in a restaurant, if the napkin is on the plate, the diner should immediately stick the napkin on the lap. As some restaurants start pouring drinks immediately upon being seated, it is a great way to prevent accidental outfit “water-staining.”

At a less formal dining establishment: as soon as ANY food is served would be an appropriate time to put the napkin on the lap. Since the napkin is often placed underneath the fork, it should be placed on top the lap as soon as the fork is lifted.

When getting up from the table, make sure to put the napkin on the left side of the plate (gently folded). As napkins are to be used for the purpose of wiping food away from one’s mouth, they should not be on the chair, where dirty bottoms are often placed.

Finally, one should not tuck napkins into the top of their shirts (resembling a bib). Using proper table manners (elbows off the table, no licking fingers, asking people to pass, chewing with lips closed) will prevent food from winding up down the front of one's shirt. As bibs are typically used for those who cannot feed themselves, it is inappropriate for a person to tie a napkin around their neck solely for the sake of preserving an outfit (unless eating lobster). When in doubt, don’t wear white. Meaning, don’t go to a restaurant that serves tomato sauce-rich foods, wearing light colors that will get stained.

These simple techniques for appropriate napkin usage will help children and grownups alike in the present and future. As etiquette is meant to prevent uncomfortable situations by teaching people how to behave in social situations, teaching children these skills at a young age will ensure that they will have the knowledge of how to behave as adults.

Those Brownies were so excited to know an actual time as to when they should put their napkin on their lap and couldn’t wait to go home and teach their grownups. Watch out parents! The word is spreading…

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Get to Know the People in Your Neighborhood! Put Away Your Phones!

Cell phone etiquette. I have had no less than 5 people email me in the past two weeks, requesting a blog post on the appropriate usage of cell phones in modern society. Cell phones began as a fashion craze in the early to mid 1990s and have most recently become appendages– foreign “growths” between hands and ears; their popularity has caused an inability of people to remember how to interact with one another. Interfacing with others has become less important, as people spend increasing amounts of time on their cell phones. People no longer have to connect with others directly in front of them; thus, causing the decline of social skills.

I recognize that a whole novel can be written about the when’s, where’s and how’s of cell phone etiquette, but here is a 4-step plan that can help get us on the path to social redemption. We can get to know our neighbors and each other just a little bit better. Not to mention that we will model appropriate behavior for the children.

Step 1- Conversations take 2 – NOT 1!

Conversations are private. We do not need to know about your dirty laundry: literally and figuratively. Seriously, if you must speak about this in public, do it at a decibel in which NO ONE ELSE can hear you.

Step 2- Cell phones don’t eat dinner!

Phones should not be answered at dinner, nor should calls be made. If you feel that the person on the other line requires your attention immediately, excuse yourself from the table and the company of others before following through with the conversation. Translation: do not carry on a phone conversation while in the presence of others.

Step 3- If the lights are out, the phone is off…
Anytime you enter a place in which the lights have to dim, turn your phone off. This includes movies, plays, lectures, observatories, or anywhere else that I might be forgetting… There is nothing more frustrating than trying to concentrate on someone speaking, only to hear the latest Beyonce ringtone; or any ringtone for that matter. In an exercise of consideration, put your ringer on silent or vibrate.

Step 4- Cramped spaces are not cell phone places

How annoying is it when you are in the elevator with three other people, and one of them is yapping his/her head off, oblivious to the other three people in the “room.” That kind of narcissistic behavior is completely unnecessary and should be eliminated. If you are not able to hang up with the person for the 15 seconds that it takes to go up the 10 flights, I recommend asking the person to hold. Exchanging pleasantries is a great way to get to know the people in your neighborhood, which was sung about so wonderfully by Sesame Street so many years ago.

Who are the People in Your Neighborhood? Put down your phone and find out.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Always Bring A Gift...

You have been invited to a person’s birthday party, and the event is in a home. Do you need to bring a gift? Absolutely. Does it need to be an expensive, thought-about-it-for-days kind of present? Certainly not! Simply put, having good social skills/manners means that you never show up to another person’s home empty-handed.

Some people might argue that they were explicitly instructed to show up with just their lovely smiles. Modern etiquette would dictate that in a social situation, whether a dinner party or event, if the host had to spend time and money in order to entertain, it is expected that the guest arrive with a token of their appreciation.

Grownups, if you are at a loss as to what to bring to said occasion, a bottle of wine is ALWAYS appreciated! Should the grape varietal of wine not be what the host prefers, it can always become a re-gift. And if you have any questions about wine pairings, contact the wine guru: Stacey Blacker

Another idea is to bring a plant, as they are the environmentally-aware compromise for flowers (flowers die after a few days, but plants can live on forever). Some easy to care-for plants are: spider plants, peace plants, snake plants, cacti and bamboo.

Clearly it is inappropriate for young children to bring alcohol to an informal, adult birthday or dinner party. Instead, I would recommend having the child create an artistic masterpiece that can be handed to the host (or hostess) upon entrance to the home/event. Not only can the child utilize his/her fine motor skills and one to one correspondence in the process but parents will have an opportunity to discuss appropriate social behavior in advance.

Whether handing a bottle of wine or a picture, it is important to look the host in the eye and say “thank you for inviting me. I brought this for you.”

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Cupcake Etiquette

Cupcakes. No longer just for children’s birthday parties, cupcakes are now used at weddings, charity events, and other formal dining situations. Cupcake shops and delicatessens are popping up throughout New York City, as the craze just seems to be gaining momentum! Aside from the fact that every diner can get the same ratio of frosting and cake (no longer a fight for the coveted end piece), cupcakes can soothe everyone’s taste buds, albeit chocolate, vanilla, lemon zest or red velvet! The best part is that people with allergies can enjoy a treat that doesn’t lack in shape, texture or flavor (cupcakes are one of the few foods in which the allergy-free versions taste the same!).

On that note, I will say that some people have recently asked if there is an appropriate way to eat the said cupcake. “What is proper cupcake etiquette?” Not to answer a question with a question, but are utensils available? If the answer is yes, a knife should be used to slice off "bite-size bites," which can then be carried to the mouth by hand. This will help reduce an overabundance of crumbs. It will also help provide an appropriate frosting/cake ratio. If a knife is unavailable, a fork or spoon can be used to “slice” the cupcake, but it is not necessary to eat it with a utensil.

If you do not have utensils because the affair is much less formal, and/or you are standing, it is appropriate to break off smaller pieces and place them into your mouth. Biting directly into the cupcake can cause frosting to appear all over your face, which will receive unwelcome snickering from those around you. And yes, I will try to hide a smile but will be laughing as well. Seriously, the secret to cupcakes is to avoid making a mess.

If you are 3 years old, you are probably licking the frosting off first (most kids don’t even bother with the cake part; they just head straight to the frosting). And when they have successfully licked the top off of one, without fail, they will ask for a second. Although it is great to allow children to be kids, our job as grownups is to provide them with the social skills. If they choose to continue licking off only the frosting, well, at least we taught them the right way. Perhaps if grownups provided children with utensils for their cupcakes at an early age, the shock of learning how to slice a “bite-size bite” would not seem so traumatic upon entrance to adulthood. That way, when they are 30 and at a business dinner, they will at least be able to recall the appropriate cupcake etiquette.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Thank You Notes

Whenever Rupert Rude had a birthday, he would never send thank you notes for the gifts he received. He always thought, “why bother? I said thank you when I opened it in front of them” (even though after the fact, he rarely remembered who gave him what). His friends, Jolly Jonny and Maddy Manners watched him play with the toys that they gave him, feeling sad that Rupert Rude never mentioned whether or not he liked the toys, let alone if he even knew where he acquired the gifts from. Staring in horror as Rupert Rude stomped on the super-cool action figure (that he may or may not have known was from them) in front of them, Jolly Jonny and Maddy Manners decided that they would never bring him a gift ever again. “It seems like he doesn’t care either way,” said Jolly Jonny. Maddy Manners tearfully explained, “we just thought that he would really like it because we know he likes blue!”

Did that situation ever happen to you? Have you ever felt like you have picked the perfect gift for somebody, only to wonder if the receiver ever liked it (or got it)?

It is ALWAYS important to acknowledge a gift with a thank you. If a guest arrives at your house with a picture that was colored just for you or a bottle of wine, you (the host) need to look the guest in the eye and say THANK YOU. A thank you note is not required for this. Up to your discretion: if you feel like a person brought you something especially thoughtful, an email is always appreciated. Of course, I wouldn’t discount the fact at how nice it is to be on the receiving end of a handwritten note of gratitude for a gift I have brought.

If the event is a special occasion, such as an engagement party, bridal shower, baby shower, or planned birthday party (to name just a few), handwritten notes are pretty much the only way to go. Although there are some schools of belief that an email is appropriate, the truly heartfelt "thank you" often seems to be in the form of a personalized thank you note. Yes, a gift means that there should be no expectation of anything upon receipt; however, people just want a testimonial of your pleasure.

Moving past the “should you” or “should you not” send a thank you argument (you should!), the ever-burning question of turn-around time: how long should you wait to send a thank you note? According to some wedding etiquette books, the time line is 6 months. I feel very strongly about the fact that a THANK YOU NOTE MUST BE WRITTEN BEFORE A CHECK IS CASHED, GAME IS PLAYED WITH, JEWELRY IS WORN OR THE GIFT IS USED!

Even young children can learn the art of a thank you note. By the time a child is two years old, he/she is capable of creating a drawing of the present received. The grownup can write the “thank you” for them. Once writing skills are developed, they can be incorporated into the picture. For example, if the child can write his/her name, add that to the drawing of the picture. The message to be taken away is that young children can learn to express gratitude for a gift (or time spent): people of any age can learn to say “thank you.”

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Let Them Out Before You Go In

I was recently reading a posting on Facebook: someone was wondering proper "door etiquette." Although some responses were "to never hold the door for anyone" and "keep walking so as to avoid any sort of uncomfortable situation," I thought that it would be helpful to know how to handle the door scenario... After all, how else could we help raise a nice group of young girls and boys without modeling the appropriate behavior for them?!?!

First and foremost, it is always polite to hold the door for the person behind you. Period. As the image of doors getting slammed shut in one's face is not a pleasant one, taking an extra 5 seconds of your time will brighten someone else's day and you will have gone one step closer to fulfilling your good-deed quota of the day. Of course, if someone holds the door for you, don't forget to say Thank You!

Second, let them out before you go in. This rule can be applied to subway turnstiles as well. I know it seems like common sense; however, that rule is forgotten by many. A person has a much easier time exiting through an empty space, rather than maneuvering through a crowd. After the person is allowed through the door, the passer-by-er should hold the door for those entering.

Now, the age-old question of gender and door holding. Modern times dictate that chivalry is no longer an integral part of society. According to an article in the Chicago Tribune (written by Nara Schoenberg) modern etiquette has a twist with "Etiquette for Dummies" by Sue Fox. When someone crosses to the door, the first person to arrive is the one who will hold it open, regardless of gender. A person's age may be taken into consideration.

The same is true for a revolving door: the first person to enter is either the first one to reach the door or the stronger of the group, if the door is not in motion.

Regardless of gender, teaching your preschool child to say "thank you" every time a door is held for him/her will cause pleasantly surprised looks from the grownups around. Everyone will notice "Paul/Polly Polite". Not to mention that young children like to have responsibilities. By assigning them a job, such as "door holder," children learn the skills of dependability and reliability, which will only help them in their future endeavors.

And of course, encouraging them to complete any task, regardless of age, race and/or gender is a valuable lesson to teach children (and one that we hope will stay with them for the rest of their lives)

Sunday, April 25, 2010

4 Social Skills to Teach Children- Part 2

The last segment of 4 Social Skills to Teach Children was such a hit, that I felt like it was time to share 4 more! I understand that many of these skills/manners are obvious and practiced by many; however, the reasoning behind their implementation is not always so apparent. As it turns out, manners were not only created as a way to be respectful of others ("Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter which fork you use. ~Emily Post"), but they were intended to "keep your body safe," which is a hugely popular phrase in the preschool world.

1) Elbows Off!

Aside from the fact that your sleeves will wind up stained with the delectable meal you are eating, leaving elbows on the table is a successful way to share your neighbor's meal with the floor. As many people tend to engage in conversations, the excitement level rises during an intense discussion. One slide of your elbow can cause the plate or drink of the person next to you to break, leaving shards of glass and/or ceramic. To be on the safe side, leave one hand in your lap. The only visible parts of your arms should be the forearms, hands and fingers.

2) Hunch Over Ideas, Not Plates!
In a restaurant setting, the background noise can be overwhelming, so people rely on their vision to hear. When "listening" to someone talk, chances are that they eyes are watching the lips just as carefully as the cilia in the ears are dancing to the vibrations of the sound waves. If a person's head is facing his/her feet (which are hopefully underneath the table), it is often very difficult to understand the words, which become muffled and lost in the background. Instead of causing everyone around you to strain their necks in order to hear all of the important ideas that you have, just look up! Not to mention that your spine will thank you immensely... Slouching over your plate puts causes unnatural curvature of the spine, which can have serious long-term effects. Just ask orthopedic spinal surgeon, Dr. Nathaniel Tindel, author of "I've Got Your Back!"

3) Bite-Size Bites
Forks and spoons were created to be proportionate to people's mouths (children-size spoons are larger than baby spoons, yet smaller than those for grownups). The measurements were carefully taken to ensure that people would only take bites of food that could fit onto the fork or spoon. Two compelling arguments for taking appropriately-portioned nibbles: 1) you are 93% less likely to choke and 2) you can maintain chewing with your lips closed, as your teeth will be able to touch without your mouth filled to excess. A win-win for everyone!

4) Eating Utensils are for Eating

Although Ariel in The Little Mermaid thought that the fork was a dinglehopper, a device that humans used to comb their hair. However, "up there on land" the fork was used to help the food get to the mouth without the use of fingers. As fingers are often carriers of germs, due to their ability to touch anything and everything, eating utensils were created to prevent the spread of sickness. Use them!

On that note, following these 4 Social Skills to Teach Children will help them keep their bodies safe (and yours!).

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Hot Plates, Cold Plates, Some Plates, No Plates

According to an article written by Jess in When Harry Met Sally, "restaurants are to people in the 80's what theatres were to people in the 60's." Dining out has become a social situation, a way for people to (re)connect with friends. The meals are filled with laughter and conversation; reminiscing about the past and fantasizing about the present. The only lull in the evening occurs at 1 awkward moment: how many plates must be served before one can and should start eating? Knowing that the food in restaurants is rarely brought out at the same time, does everyone need to have a dish in front of them before beginning the meal?

Different behaviors are revealed in the moments when the server brings out the first plates. Some of the people begin eating the moment their food arrives, carefully avoiding eye contact with the hungry stares around the table. On the flip side, others are adamant about waiting until all people at the table have been served, whether there are 4 people or 20. Which is correct?

To answer that burning question: neither is correct. Like many situations in life, the topic of "how many people need to be served before eating" falls into a gray category, with several aspects that need to be considered. First of all, how many people are sitting at the table? Second, is the meal a dinner salad or an entree? If the table has six people or less, all occupants should receive their food (hot or cold) before someone takes a bite. The only time it would be acceptable to begin eating earlier would be if those without food insist that the lucky folk start their meal instead of waiting for the rest of the entrees.

If the table has more than 6 people, statistics and math skills come into play... 3 "hot" plates (entrees, pastas, secondi) should be served before taking the first bite (dinner salads are not included in this). Of course, it is polite to provide permission for those with hot plates to begin immediately, as no one enjoys eating cold steak. If the table has more than 10 diners, it would be preferable for 4-5 hot plates to be served before delving in. Typically, one-third of the table should have their food... However, the most appropriate table etiquette would be to wait until permission to eat has been granted by those without plates (the conversation being, "no, please go ahead and eat. I insist!").

And of course, this manner can be taught to children that are of the preschool age and older. To utilize developmentally appropriate math skills, the child must count how many "hot" plates are served before they can begin. Sorting out the types of food that are "hot" versus "cold" enables the child to practice placing items into separate categories. Using one to one correspondence (assigning every meal a number) will keep the child entertained for a few moments. When the preschooler becomes a working adult, this skill will ensure that he/she will not become the "rudie" at the business dinner, who started eating before all of the bosses. Knowing how many plates should be served before eating is a practice that will help children in work and social situations in the future.

Bon Appetit!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Table Etiquette: Which Water Glass is Yours?

Do you remember that scene in Pretty Woman, when Vivian (aka Julia Roberts) asks Barney (aka Hector Elizando) to teach her how to behave at a fancy business dinner? She learns many things, such as the napkin on the lap, and count the tines on the fork in order to know which one to use (I myself prefer to remember that as each course is served, forks are used from the left, going inwards). I am sure countless numbers of people referred to that scene in Pretty Woman in order to determine proper dining etiquette; however, there was always a part missing for me...

Sitting at a round table with more than 2 people used to be intimidating, as I always felt there were endless amounts of cups and plates (bread plates). Never knowing which one to use, I would either wait to see which water glass my neighbor chose or would just start drinking a water, praying that I did not take someone else's drink (after all, the whole point of a place setting is that utensils don't have to be shared!). I then discovered a trick that saved me countless hours of embarrassment in front of others...

While you are reading this (please) make two circles with your pointer finger and thumb by having them touch. Stick the remaining 3 fingers straight up. As this is done on both the left and right side, you should notice a lowercase b and d. The b, on the left, is for the bread plate, while the d, on the right, is for the drink. Pretty fancy, right?! It took me a little bit of getting used to, and perhaps some definite letter formations under the table. I managed to learn that if I can tell my left from my right, I can decipher which glass is mine!

So, go spread the word; teach them well and teach them young.