Everyday Etiquette for tots, tweens and teens

Time-honored etiquette may be old-fashioned, but don’t assume it’s passé, says Dr. Donna Corbett, executive director of Amazing Grace Etiquette. Manners go beyond the dinner table and impact everything from your child’s earliest friendships to his future employability. Read on for age-by-age tips on raising a child with social savvy to spare.

Early Years (ages 1-5): Model Behavior
Toddlers aren’t known for polite behavior, but they can begin learning basic manners, says Angela Santomero, child development expert and creator of the children’s PBS series Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. “Manners are all about empathy and respect. Babies as young as 18 months will mimic what they see and hear. Talking to your child—as well as others around you—in the way you want your child to talk to others, helps form the foundation of empathy.” From there, tots begin to learn the importance of treating others well.

When it comes to basic etiquette, Corbett says, “The hardest job kids face today is learning good manners without seeing any.” When parents consistently say please and thank you, chew with their mouths closed, demonstrate good technology habits (pocketing that phone during family time), and avoid interrupting others, children will pick up these habits too.  

School Years (ages 6-12): It’s for You
The school years bring close connections with new friends and for many, first phone calls with pals (often courtesy of mom or dad’s cellphone). Sadly, phone manners—the set of behaviors associated with respectful phone communication—seem to have fallen by the wayside in the age of texting and screen-based socializing. Whether your family prefers connecting via FaceTime, Skype or a landline, kids should still learn to use the phone and other forms of electronic communication properly, says Corbett. A few of her guidelines: “When calling a friend, if someone else answers, introduce yourself and ask to speak with your friend. Don’t interrupt others when speaking on the phone. If you must answer a cellphone call in public, excuse yourself; don’t involve others in your conversation. And if you have a camera phone, never take photos of people without first asking their permission.”

Teen Years (ages 13-18): Social Sparkle
Whether your teen is interviewing for an afterschool job, a summer internship or a college admissions spot, essential etiquette can make the difference between acing the interview and falling flat. Introduction basics—something teens should master by high school, according to Corbett—include a firm handshake, eye contact, and speaking with a smile and confidence. “Acknowledging adults appropriately by addressing adults by their proper titles—‘How are you, Mr. Jones’—is another important skill,” says Corbett. More advanced, age-appropriate table manners, including which knife and fork to use, where to place napkins and which water glass belongs to you, will help spark confidence when teens eat at a friend’s house, in restaurants and on dates. Electronic protocol (never text or post something online that you wouldn’t want your entire community to see) and professional dressing and grooming are other elements of etiquette to help teens succeed in high school and beyond, says Corbett. “Manners provide that ‘extra edge’ that makes the difference!”



Malia Jacobson is an award-winning health and parenting journalist and mom of three.

Published November 2015

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