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Manners 101: Laying the Groundwork for Your Kids

Developing social skills truly does start at home. Here are ways parents can help children with table manners, phone etiquette, sportsmanship and more.

Perhaps the best place to start in tackling the social-skills education of your little ones is at the beginning. While it's never too late to help guide your tween or teen in the ways or appropriate social behaviors, it's also never too early to begin laying the groundwork. Etiquette experts share some tips to help you on your way.

Introducing the magic words

In their book The Gift of Good Manners, Cindy Post Senning Ed.D. and Peggy Post note that "please" and "thank you" are the most important words in the etiquette lexicon. Experts agree that parents should begin using these words around baby from day one. "Even a 6-month-old can begin to sense the difference between 'Drink your milk' and 'Please drink your milk,'" write Post Senning and Post.

Table manners

Daniel Post Senning of the Emily Post Institute notes that a bib is baby's first napkin – an opportunity to introduce the concept of neatness at the dinner table from baby's earliest days. Repeated bib use will translate into proper use of a napkin, he notes. That means that depending on when you start your baby on solid foods and begin making bib use a regular thing, you're already introducing the concept of appropriate table behavior.

Other tips from the Emily Post Institute include encouraging your children to come to the table with clean hands and faces, only to start eating when everyone else does, keeping their elbows off the table, chewing with their mouth closed, thanking the person who prepared the meal and offering to clear the table at meal's end.

Around 5 years of age, a child may be ready to learn how to set a proper table. This can become the child's daily task so that the appropriate placement of linens, utensils and dishware becomes second nature.

Telephone tips

Somewhere around ages 5-7, children may express a desire to begin answering the phone and even make calls to family members.

Marianne Cohen, senior consultant for the Manners for Minors Division of Mannersmith, points out that as with other manners, telephone manners come from watching parents and others in the house.

With that in mind, parents should be mindful of how they answer the phone, their volume, how they hang up and how they take a message. Cindy Post Senning and Peggy Post encourage parents to have their child always give his or her name at the beginning of a call.

Cleanliness

Derschaun Sharpley of Southfield's Helping Individuals Succeed finds that perhaps the most fundamental social skill – personal hygiene – is too often overlooked. Even the youngest of children are able to sense the importance of washing and good oral hygiene when they are repeatedly encouraged to do so by their parents. By brushing your baby or toddler's teeth every morning and every night and keeping a regular schedule for bath time, parents are communicating the importance of regular hygiene from baby's earliest days.

Sportsmanship

The soccer field, tennis court and swimming pool are all arenas where manners can be tested. No one likes to lose – especially not very young children.

"Winning can be important to their burgeoning self-image, and their need to feel superior" say Post Senning and Post. "As they near age 6, however, they will begin to grasp the value of teamwork, and fair play will become a meaningful concept."

As always, parents play a crucial role in how they conduct themselves around sporting events or other competitive situations. Post Senning and Post recommend parents start instilling the concept of good sportsmanship in very young children by playing simple board games. With older children, parents should seek to remind them repeatedly of appropriate athletic etiquette: following the rules, refraining from arguing with referees and judges, and winning and losing with grace, suggest Post Senning and Post.

Jacqueline M. Northrop of Detroit-based Scarlet Communications says shaking your opponent's hand or bowing to him or her is a way to honor them. She recommends parents talk to their kids about not taking a loss personally.

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