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Public Manners

by Elizabeth Pantley, Author of Perfect Parenting and Kid Cooperation

When we’re out in public my son seems to forget all the good manners he routinely uses at home. If we run into someone I know he won’t even say a polite hello. He forgets to say ‘thank you’ and ‘excuse me’. The list goes on. How can I get him to remember to use his manners?

Think about it:
As annoying as your child’s lack of manners can be, resist the urge to reprimand him in front of other people. I’ve seen many parents do this. In a misguided effort to teach manners, they display some of the worse manners I’ve seen!

Teach them what to do:
Many children are not aware of their bad manners and must be taught not only what not to do, but what to do instead. For example, if a friend of yours speaks to your child, who looks down at his sneakers and ignores the comment, it’s typically embarrassment and ignorance on the child’s part that’s causing the behavior. After the person leaves, make a brief comment to your child, “Casey, if an adult talks to you, it’s polite to look him in the eye and say something back. When Mr. Nagamine commented on your new shoes, you could have said, ‘Thank you, they’re new.’ People like it when you answer them like that.”

Correct privately:
If your child is acting in a rude way, lead him away from other people and quietly and briefly correct him. Give him a smile and a hug to show him that you love him. That way you can send him back into the situation prepared to change for the better.

Have clear expectations:
In advance of a social situation, brief your child on what manners will be expected of him. Younger children can benefit from a role-play at home previewing what they might expect.

Give lots of praise:
Praise your child for using good manners. Believe it or not, children often feel embarrassed when they socialize with adults and use good manners. Since they have heard adults say things like, “Fine thank you, and you?” they feel like an impostor when they say it themselves!

We’d like to take our children to a real restaurant – one that serves food on a plate with silverware – and actually enjoy it for once! But every time we try this kind of adventure, we end up wishing we’d stayed home and ordered pizza.

Think about it:
Ironically, this problem is one that gets better with practice, but the experience is so painful that the sessions end up being too far apart to be of value. With a specific game plan, you can increase the odds that your children will behave appropriately in a restaurant.

Teach them:
If you are very casual about mealtime manners at home, don’t expect your kids to miraculously develop table manners just because you happen to be sitting in a restaurant. Practice appropriate restaurant manners at home. On a daily basis, require good manners. Next, on a regular schedule, maybe once a month, have a “formal family dinner.” Actually use the good china that warms the shelf in your cabinet; cover the table with a tablecloth, and light some candles. Allow your children to help plan the menu and let them make a centerpiece for the table. Formal meals are likely to become a wonderful family tradition.

Choose wisely:
Don’t choose a restaurant based on its menu, but rather on its level of child-friendliness. What’s important? The availability of a children’s menu that includes food your kids will actually eat. The absence of a long wait for a table. Booster seats or high chairs. Private booths or eating nooks as opposed to one large open room.

Be specific:
Review your expectations for behavior before you enter the restaurant. Be very specific and leave no stone unturned. A sample list of “restaurant rules” might be: Sit in your seat. Use a quiet inside voice. Use your silverware, not your fingers. Have nice conversation, no bickering. If you don’t like something, keep your comments to yourself and fill up on something else. If you have to use the restroom, ask me privately and I’ll take you.

Feed ‘em quick:
If your kids are starving, they will get quite anxious waiting for their meals to arrive. Consider an appetizer that can be served quickly so that the kids can settle in.

Time out:
If a child’s behavior gets out of hand, take her to the restroom or out to the car for a time out. Make sure she understands that this is happening because she is not following the rules, not as a fun diversion to sitting at the table! During this time out, discuss proper behavior with her and take her back to her seat with a clear understanding of what is expected. (Remember that it can be tough for a little one to sit quietly for a long period of time!) If she continues to misbehave after your time-out-chat, don’t be afraid to leave the restaurant. Don’t stay and suffer. If possible, hire a babysitter for that night, or another night soon afterward, and go to dinner without her. Leaving her behind with a sitter will speak volumes about expected behavior.

Copyright Elizabeth Pantley. (McGraw-Hill, 2003)

About the Author:
Elizabeth Pantley is the author of several books, including
Gentle Baby Care : No-cry, No-fuss, No-worry — Essential Tips for Raising Your Baby, The No-Cry Sleep Solution: Gentle Ways to Help Your Baby Sleep Through the Night, Kid Cooperation (with an introduction by William Sears, MD), Perfect Parenting, as well as her latest The No-Cry Sleep Solution for Toddlers and Preschoolers and is also president of Better Beginnings, Inc. She is a popular speaker on family issues, and her newsletter, Parent Tips, is seen in schools nationwide. She appears as a regular radio show guest, and has been quoted in Parents, Parenting, Redbook, Good Housekeeping, American Baby, Working Mother, and Woman’s Day magazines. Visit Elizabeth’s web site

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