To help prepare her kids for a family function in Georgia, Sara Kral did more than just help them pack. She signed them up for etiquette classes.
"The etiquette is much more formal and we thought it would be a good idea for the kids to take an etiquette class," says Ms. Kral, a mother of five in Tigard, Ore.
Across the country, parents are signing their children up for classes to learn such skills as basic table manners, the importance of sending thank-you notes, social dancing, and proper behavior at a fine restaurant.
Educators attribute the demand to an increase in the number of busy parents who want well-behaved kids but do not have time to teach them the intricacies of manners and etiquette at home.
"I often hear parents say, 'We work so hard and give 200 percent of our time to our jobs; we just do not have the time [to teach manners and etiquette],' " says Dorothea Johnson, founder and director of the Protocol School of Washington in Portland, Maine. "Parents want the time they spend with their children to be quality time; they do not want to be correcting their manners."
While it is difficult to estimate the number of children taking etiquette classes, demand has been increasing steadily, says Elizabeth Howell, director of public relations for the Emily Post Institute.
"We are getting a lot more calls from people all over the country asking where they can sign their children up for etiquette classes in their area," says Ms. Howell.
"I have never seen anything like the hunger for etiquette classes that exists right now," says Ms. Johnson, who estimates that demand for classes has quadrupled over the last five years.
But some experts warn that parents shouldn't view manners and etiquette classes as a quick fix to behavioral problems.
"Teaching children manners and etiquette is an ongoing project," says Cassandra Givan, owner of Manners on the Go in Lake Oswego, Ore. "Parents need to model proper manners and etiquette at home to reinforce what their children learn in their classes; change is not going to happen overnight."
Etiquette classes have been so effective for the Kral family, Kral says that now she actually looks forward to going out to a restaurant together for dinner.
"Before [the classes], we would go out for dinner and it was really hectic; everyone was interrupting and talking over each other and it was hard for them to settle down because they were so excited," she says. "Now when we go out to a restaurant the kids are not yelling or interrupting, and they have great table manners."
Ms. Givan says being raised in a fast-food generation is not helping children learn proper etiquette, especially when it comes to meals.
"A lot of families are not eating dinner together; the kids eat in front of the TV and no one is telling them to sit up straight or to use their fork," she says. "Children will not learn manners and etiquette when they are not exposed to it."
The Plaza Hotel in New York began offering etiquette classes for children in 2000 after receiving numerous requests for the service. The classes teach children everything from good table manners to contemporary etiquette, including the proper protocol for cellphone use.
"Teaching children proper etiquette creates an awareness of good manners and helps them develop good social skills," says Lyudmila Bloch, director of the Young Plaza Ambassadors program at the Plaza Hotel.
The classes are effective because children are more apt to listen to an etiquette teacher than their parents, says Ms. Bloch. "It is one thing for Mom to tell you to sit up straight, but it is different when an instructor is telling you," she says.
Although the classes have helped improve family harmony, Kral admits that she felt awkward about enrolling her children in etiquette courses. "I taught my kids good manners and I modeled them; I never imagined I would go outside the house for help with manners and etiquette," she says.
But it turned out that her children were much more receptive to a professional. And Kral quickly realized the classes could teach her children a lot more than just table manners.
"My husband and I blended our families and learned that we had very different expectations [for our children]," says Kral, whose children range in age from 6 to 14. "These classes have helped us find common ground for all of the kids."