A while back I saw an article in which the columnist listed 5 rules for entertaining like a grownup. The exact rules were not the point; the real point was that once we’re adult and beyond the poor student stage, we should put a little effort into entertaining.
Whether it’s planning a menu and being ready before guests arrive, offering drinks in proper glasses rather than plastic, dressing appropriately or letting guests wear their shoes; entertaining has some rules. A picnic, a Stanley Cup party or a kids birthday can be as casual as you want. But throwing a dinner party is different.
It was the shoes rule that really caught my attention. When I’m asked to take off my shoes a number of things happen. I worry about slipping on the stairs in my stocking feet. I know I will get a run or tear in my stockings. And I’ll be cold all evening.
I don’t get it. Shouldn’t hardwood and carpeting be able to take footwear? But now I’m ranting and you’re wondering what this has to do with parenting.
Manners are important. Kids need to learn how to entertain, how to handle themselves at a dinner party, how to make small talk and how to behave in public. They learn by being taught and by watching and they learn much more by watching than by listening.
If every family meal is casual with plastic plates and paper napkins and served in front of the television set, what happens the first time your kids are invited for a more formal meal? Or if every dinner eaten out is in a fast food place, when do they learn how to behave in a proper restaurant?
If they see adults at a dinner party dressed in sweats and runners, how are they supposed to know that they need to dress up for a wedding?
My point is that our kids learn by watching what we do and by experiencing different scenarios. Our job is to create the different learning experiences so they are prepared for whatever happens as they grow and mature. This doesn’t mean you need to rush out and take the kids to a 5-star restaurant to learn the rules. It does mean that you start teaching them at home.
Turn off the television, set the table properly with cloth and china not paper and plastic. Okay, you won’t use the china until the kids are in elementary school, but you get the point. You all sit down together, and a proper meal is served to everyone. The kids learn by watching and being shown what utensils to use, how to wait until everyone is served before starting and how to cut their food and eat politely. Adjust the rules and expectations according to the age of the child. A two-year-old can’t wait calmly until everyone is served but an eight-year-old certainly can.
When you have company over ask the children to come in and greet the guests and chat for a few minutes. Teach them that they are expected to welcome everyone who visits even if they are not going to stay. If your children are young or shy, practice a short conversation with them. They will likely be asked what grade they’re in, their favourite subject in school, whether they play sports and the like. Help them to have some answers ready so they can make the requisite small talk. And voila, they are learning how to chat.
Clothing can be another sore point. While I know that we no longer drape ourselves in black at a funeral, it’s not a party. I have seen kids in the most appalling get-ups at funerals; they look like they are heading to the beach. Long pants for boys and pants or skirts for girls with a blouse or shirt seem pretty basic to me. When you are going to a funeral, wedding, job interview or important meeting, talk to your kids about why you’re choosing the outfit you’re going to wear.
And if you want your kids to really stand out, teach them how to say thank you. When they are having dinner at a friend’s house, taking their dishes to the kitchen and nicely thanking the friend’s parents is easy and important. When they host a birthday party, they can be at the door thanking their friends as they leave. And what about the lost art of thank-you notes for friends who send gifts by mail? It’s not that difficult and is a fabulous habit to teach. Little ones can draw a picture; older kids send a short note. When my children were is high school the principal always wrote a note to thank parents for their specific contribution when they helped out. I was very impressed by his consideration of my time and me. I bet when he was a little boy he used to sit at the kitchen table and write thank-you notes to his relatives after Christmas and birthdays.
Good manners always stand us it good stead. First, take a look at your own behavior; then show your kids how polite they can be.