Teaching Kids Etiquette in This Crazy World? You Betcha!

As parents of young children, it’s often a struggle just to get your child to eat their peas, not throw things and take a nap. At first thought, teaching a young child proper etiquette seems far from a priority. But that’s not so. Even the simplest act of saying “please” or “thank you” is the beginning of teaching your child proper etiquette. After all, it’s our job as parents to raise our children, and part of that is raising a child who understands how to properly request something, how to express gratitude and so much more.

You may not know it, but we have a wonderful resource in Birmingham for helping us out in guiding our children in the right direction of good manners and confidence – The Etiquette School of Birmingham. Kathie Martin, founder of the school, shared a little with us about the importance of teaching our children how to handle life situations with ease.

(to read on, click the title!)

Why is it important to teach our children etiquette?
Etiquette is just a fancy word for “respect.” Being able to show respect for others—not just by what we do and say, but also by how we look—is basic to civilization as we know it. And respect breeds respect. Children who treat their parents, teachers and other adults with respect and who know how to conduct themselves properly in other people’s homes and in public, are more likely to get the opportunity to have a wider range of experiences as well as be given responsibilities that their peers may not have. When children show respect to their peers, they are more likely to be included in groups, invited to parties and have a wide circle of friends.

As adults, we’ve all experienced that awkward moment when we didn’t know how to act or what to do. Which salad is mine? Am I supposed to open this gift now or later? What am I supposed to say when I’m introduced to my Mom’s boss? Should my socks match my trousers or my shoes? Why does he hold his fork that way in his left hand–isn’t he eating upside down? Children who have basic etiquette training have the confidence to tackle new experiences and concentrate on what’s truly important. I know I would rather be able to concentrate on giving the right answer than on whether I’m supposed to sit down or stand in the college recruiter’s office.

How early should we start stressing manners and etiquette?
It’s never too early to teach your children manners—and how to show respect to friends and family. Younger children, however, will not be able to master all skills. When my daughter was in preschool, I was amazed at how much she was capable of doing at the age of two. If they are able to talk in short sentences, they are capable of using the magic words “please” and “thank you.” A well-timed, “Cookie, peez” can be pure magic.

Preschool is also a great time to learn what side the fork goes on, what side the spoon goes on and where the drink cup goes. Children love to help, and allowing them to help set the table is a lesson that will serve them well.

When they get a bit older, new lessons can be added. Encouraging them to eat with utensils (and not their hands) is especially important as early as they can master it. They should be able to look adults in the eye, smile and shake hands by kindergarten; these skills will win them the adoration of every adult they meet.

What are some easy ways that we can teach our young children good manners?
One of the easiest ways to teach manners is to praise them when they do something especially nice for another or for using newly-acquired manners skills. Children are eager to please and letting them know that you are proud of them goes extremely far.

There are also some excellent books out there that teach kindness for preschoolers. Reading them Barney’s “Thank You” and “Please” book makes an impression and they are likely to ask you to read it over and over again.

As our children get older, what are the most important etiquette areas to focus on?
Elementary school children and even preteens are still excited to learn more etiquette skills. Allow them as many new social experiences as you can—from Broadway-style shows to dinners in fancy restaurants—as you can, carefully preparing them for what will be expected of them.

The teenage years are a crucial time for kids to hone their etiquette skills as summer job interviews may already be in the picture and college scholarship interviews are not far away. Add to that the pressures of adolescence and all the physical and social challenges they present. Focusing on clothing choices for various situations is especially important for teenagers, who are heavily swayed by their favorite movie magazine fashions and the comfort of flip-flops and pants who whose waist may or may not sit at the designated level. Dating etiquette, the importance of thank you notes and gift giving, skin and hair care as well as dining etiquette are all important areas for teenagers. Remember you own teenage years?

One of the most important things a parent can focus on is the example they set for their children. Etiquette begins at home. Parents who don’t take pains about their appearance, who act rudely to their children and friends and whose vocabulary includes words that can curl hair aren’t showing the same respect they expect their children to show.

To be an excellent role model, practice what you preach. Write thank you notes, curb your temper and hold that door open for the next person. Welcome new neighbors with a gift and always remember to celebrate your child’s accomplishments, no matter how small.

Kathie Martin is a communications and etiquette professional with more than 35 years’ experience in the corporate communications and public relations field. She founded The Etiquette School of Birmingham, a division of Martin Communications, in 2003. Her business, which allows her to serve as etiquette counsel for busy business executives well as children, is a labor of love that gives her the opportunity to meet a host of fascinating people.

Martin speaks on a variety of etiquette-related topics including business etiquette, tea and dining etiquette, travel etiquette and children’s etiquette. Her audiences have included The Red Hat Society regional convention, AAA, The International Association of Business Communicators, the Public Relations Council of America and other business groups.

About The Etiquette School of Birmingham

The Etiquette School of Birmingham, a division of Martin Communications, is a locally owned business dedicated to etiquette training for adults and children.

The school offers executive training courses for individuals and groups on all phases of social business protocol and can custom-design a course based on specific needs. Among her topics are making a positive personal statement, appropriate business dress, effective communications, dining and networking etiquette.

Courses for children begin with a basic six-week course for students in second through fifth grades followed by a series of ten-week courses for teenagers. Topics include making a positive first impression, poise and posture, proper grooming, conversation skills, written communications, telephone and social etiquette as well as dining etiquette.

For more details, visit or call 205-222-0932.

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