Merry Holiday Manners

Manners 315

It’s the perfect time to start with your children, helping them practice their manners for upcoming holiday get-togethers. The following are courtesy basics, according to Diane Gottsman, a nationally recognized etiquette expert. These manners should be practiced throughout the year, not only on holidays or special occasions.


• Introductions: When your child meets new friends or relatives, teach her to say something similar to: “Hello, my name is Rachel.” Teach her to extend her right hand (even if left-handed), and to firmly shake a hand that’s extended to her.

• Proper eye contact: Instruct your child to maintain eye contact about half the time a person is speaking to her. If your child is uncomfortable with direct eye contact, tell her to look at the bridge of the person’s nose.

• The handshake (or the unexpected hug): Remind your child to give a firm handshake and a friendly hug when appropriate. If you know a certain relative likes hugs, you can warn your child ahead of time.

• Using a napkin properly: A napkin stays on the child’s lap during the meal. If she needs to excuse herself, she should place the napkin on the chair and push the chair in. At the end of dinner, the napkin goes on the left side of her plate.

• Where the glass is on the table: The drinking glass goes on the right of the plate.

• What to do if they don’t like a food: If your child doesn’t care for an entrée tell her to simply not eat it. Instruct her not to make any negatives comments or “yucky” faces over the food.

• Use courteous words: Talk to your child about regularly using “please,” “thank you,” and “excuse me.” During meals, she should ask to “please pass” the salt and say “thank you” when it’s passed.

• Don’t interrupt: Remind your child about no interruptions during conversations. If someone asks her a question, that is her cue to respond.


Gottsman recommends that young children, especially those under age 5, should not be expected to sit through a long, holiday meal. Keep it to about 20 minutes, and then adults can linger over dessert while the kids play with their new toys.

• Receive gifts graciously: Practice an acceptable scenario before a child opens presents in front of family and friends. Even if she doesn’t like a gift — or already has that item — a child needs to genuinely smile and say thank you.

• Send thank-you notes: Mailing thank-you notes is a must. If the child is too young to write, have her draw a picture of the gift. A parent can write the note for the younger child, and she can sign her own name. A thank-you from older children can include why they liked the gift or how they’re using it.


Consistency is required to teach your children “good graces,” says Gottsman. Parents won’t find success, for example, instructing their kids about manners only during the holiday season – but it’s a good place to start.


Kim Seidel is an award-winning writer and editor living in Wisconsin with her husband of 17 years and their two daughters, ages 12 and 8.