For children, enthusiasm and energy levels tend to peak during the holidays, thanks to parties, visitors, and of course, presents. Among all of the excitement, it can be difficult for the younger set to remember—much less maintain—their manners. For advice on how to set children up for success during this emotion-filled time of year, we asked Faith Woods, formally trained etiquette expert and owner of Faith Woods Events in Huntsville, Alabama, to share tips and tricks for helping little ones stave off possible meltdowns and avoid potentially sticky situations.
Help manage everyone’s expectations. According to Woods, talking through what is about to unfold is an excellent way to help prepare children to behave appropriately. “People of all ages love to know what’s coming next,” she shares. Take time to explain where you are going, who will be attending, what will happen, and how long the event will last. The same holds true for sharing what kind of manners you expect from them. Every moment is a teaching moment, Woods says, and you shouldn’t assume that they know how they’re supposed to react in a certain situation. Fielding and answering questions before you’re in the company of others and sharing reasonable expectations will help everyone be ready to put their best foot forward.
Create a children’s table. Good hostesses know that the key to a successful dinner party is to seat people with individuals whose company they will enjoy. This holds true for children. Woods recommends placing independent children of about eight and under at their own table and suppling them with a holiday craft, or simply covering the table with Kraft paper and providing crayons for them to color away. Keeping the table near adults is advised, with rotating parental supervision. Or better yet, ask a mature tween or two to oversee the younger set.
Practice the art of gratitude in advance. The lesson of receiving gifts graciously cannot be taught in the moment of truth, Woods notes. To avoid the feared “I don’t like this” or “I already have one of these!” responses, she recommends wrapping up a few items around the house, and having children open them to gauge their initial reaction. Then, discuss how to respond politely. It’s a good idea to cover a wide variety of scenarios, Woods recommends, from a gift of money to a favorite toy, a box of tea, or a pair of socks. “Teach children that thought goes into gifting, good intentions being the sincerest gift of all,” she says.
Give children a task. Entertaining guests during the holiday season can be just as rewarding for kids as it is for adults. Woods recommends getting the children involved, and to keep things fair, having each child take on a job they love and one they aren’t crazy about. Tasks can be assigned in advance, and could include taking coats at the door, planning a game or movie for guests, returning used glasses to the kitchen, circulating passed hors d’oeuvres, and clearing the table.
Make an act of service part of your holiday traditions. “Children learn by doing,” Woods says. “What better way to teach them the life skill of good manners than to put them in a service role?” Find volunteer opportunities, such as serving a holiday meal, shopping for a family in need, or putting together care packages for the homeless, which will help children make a deeper connection to the true meaning of the holiday season.
Put a pause on handheld tech. Electronic devices present tricky situations for children, especially in large holiday gatherings. “Upon presenting bad behavior, a device might be given to quell awkwardness,” Woods says. “But this is ultimately teaching the child that bad behavior is rewarded with an iPad.” Woods suggests providing a basket for devices at the front door of your home, and encouraging everyone—both young and old—to take a break from their phones during the gathering.