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How to stay on the nice list with good holiday manners

The holidays offer the perfect time for kids to make a good impression, or blurt out that inappropriate comment about an elderly visiting aunt. Here are a few pointers on staying ahead when mingling during the holidays.

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    In this 2011 photo, young girls sit at a formal dinner table and dress in their best during a Mrs. Good Manners class in San Jose, California
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One of the many great characteristics about children is they are so honest – they usually say exactly what is on their minds. During an introduction, however, being so vocal doesn’t always make for a smooth meeting. 

I’ll never forget the time when my sister was going through a punk rock phase in high school and had “Ronald McDonald” red hair. It was very bright, to say the least. When our neighbor’s 7-year-old son came over to meet her he said, looking at her strangely, “Nice to meet you. One question: were you born that way?” Although it is funny now, it was awkward for his parents back then.

Nothing can throw a snowball on holiday cheer like when an introduction doesn't go as planned. As parents, we want our children to be polite and well mannered all year long, but during the holidays, when multiple opportunities to meet distant relatives and new friends often happen in formal settings, it can feel especially important to get an introduction right the first time. 

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Teaching children and teens how to get acquainted with grace can help eliminate potential awkwardness at parties and during seasonal festivities.

Elizabeth Pantley, Author of “Hidden Messages: What Our Words and Actions are Really Telling Our Children” suggests teaching children by telling them what you want, rather than what you don't want. For example, if you'd like your child to greet new people with a handshake or while saying something specific, teach that instead of being vague about what they should do upon greeting someone new. 

Pantley also suggests practicing at home prior to the event. By practicing formal manners, introductions, and other types of etiquette before the actual occasion, your child can be better prepared. Then, trust them to follow through. She suggests that you "expect your child to use the good manners they have been taught,” instilling confidence in their abilities and the lessons you shared with them.

Faye de Muyshondt, founder of Socialsklz, teaches more than 100 children and teens every week in her etiquette and life skills programs held on the Upper West Side of New York City.  

“Social skills are a critically important skill set for any child's life success, yet they're often overlooked. As parents, we tend to assume our kids will pick up great social skills along the way.  While we sign our kids up for soccer, tennis, violin, ballet, and hip hop classes, the closest ‘lesson' our children ever get in the area of social skills is a critical comment, often in public. That tends to lead to a humiliating experience that turns a child sour to any type of lessons in this area,” Ms. de Muyshondt said in an e-mail interview. 

In her book “Socialsklz :-) (Social Skills) for Success: How to Give Children the Skills They Need to Thrive in the Modern World” de Muyshondt focuses on skills such as proper introductions to help children succeed socially throughout their lives. 

She adds that, “Social skills affect everything a child does from the playground, to school, and ultimately to the workplace. Teaching these skills have been scientifically proven to increase self-esteem and confidence and, even more so, to increase academic performance. I see it first hand in the classroom.” 

Studies have also suggested that a heavy reliance on technology can make it harder for children to function in social settings. Melissa Ortega, a child psychologist at New York's Child Mind Institute, told the Huffington Post in 2011 that technology is often used as an avoidance strategy. Instead of having an actual conversation, they would rather text, Facebook message, or use any other form of social media. 

Brenda Stevens, a mother of four teenagers living in Evanston, Illinois says when she and her husband bought their children Smartphones, she made it very clear the teens’ manners were not to be sacrificed. Ms. Stevens says, “They know when their grandparents visit from Sarasota, Florida, that all phones go away. When my husband’s colleagues come over for dinner, our children introduce themselves by looking them in the eye and smiling. Proper introductions are very important to me and I’ve taught my children since they were very young how to introduce themselves politely.” 

Hilary Klein of San Diego, mother of two girls, ages 6 and 9, says, “Before my children meet new people, I help them out by giving them a little background information. Rather than having them just meet a new face, I feel it is beneficial for them to know why the person is my friend or how I know them. I have found this eliminates awkwardness during the meeting.” 

The Emily Post Institute has some valuable tips about proper introductions that can also be easily applied to the family and friends your child meets this holiday season. Here are the top three tips:  

  1. Start by looking at the person you are speaking to and then turn to the other person to complete the introduction.
  2. Annunciate and speak clear enough so the person can accurately hear the name of the person you are introducing.
  3. Use preferred names and titles and teach children to use titles when meeting adults.

With all the social events throughout the holiday season, this is a great time of year to teach lifelong skills that are beneficial throughout the entire year. Good manners and proper etiquette are always in season, but practicing during a season of family, giving, and festivities can make the process easier and even fun for your child. 

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