Munchkin manners: A kids’ guide to modern civility

By Doug Snover

Having children around the house in the summer can be fun, but sometimes even the most doting parents might find themselves wishing the kids were a bit better mannered.

It would be nice when they answer the telephone if you could depend on them to take a proper message.

Or when you ask them to set the table for dinner if the knives, forks and plates ended up in the correct spots.

And it would soothe the soul if dinner at a restaurant were less chaotic.

At least the city of Tempe and etiquette consultant Rita Taylor thought so when they agreed to have Taylor present a Modern Manners for Children class on Saturday, June 25. The three-hour session is designed to train children ages six through nine years in basic manners, according to Taylor.

Registration has lagged, however, and the class is in jeopardy of being cancelled if registration doesn’t increase in the next few days, according to Christina Blackwell, assistant recreation coordinator at Kiwanis Park Recreation Center.

Taylor, however, remains hopeful that there will be sufficient interest among parents to point the kids in her direction.

“The advantage of sending them to me is that they don’t always listen to their parents,” Taylor said. She has been an etiquette and image consultant for more than 20 years. Her Scottsdale-based company is called Gentle Image. Among the clients she lists are the U.S. District Court and Wells Fargo Bank.

“Manners is the way you behave,” Taylor said. “Etiquette is the rules you go by when you are behaving. It’s another step up.”

“Then you get to protocol,” she said, but that’s another story. “There are rules for everything.”

Taylor’s class for young children stresses the importance of first impressions. She teaches children how to introduce themselves to adults and also to potential new friends their own age, stressing body language, eye contact and the proper way to shake someone’s hand.

She also teaches posture. “Girls want to cross their legs incorrectly and the boys want to scrunch down,” she noted.

She teaches children to stand up as they are introduced to someone and to address adults as “Mister” or “Mrs.” or “Miss” until or unless they have received permission to address adults by first names.

Of course, there is a lot of emphasis on proper language—“yes” and “no” instead of “yeah” and “nuh-huh” and “thank you” rather than “thanks.””

“It sounds grown up. At this age, they want to sound grown up and to be treated as if they were a little older,” Taylor said.

Children are taught to explain to a caller that someone is “unavailable” rather than “in the bathroom” when taking a telephone message.

They are taught to identify themselves first when making a telephone call, before asking to speak to someone. 

“You introduce yourself and then you ask for who you want to speak to,” Taylor said. They are taught to say “zero” rather than “oh” when giving their own telephone numbers to avoid confusion.

Taylor uses placemats, plastic utensils and a workbook that she produces to show children the proper way to set a table. She even teaches children to “pull the chair out for your mom” before sitting down to the dinner table.

It might seem a difficult task to teach manners and etiquette in a casual society, but Taylor thinks it’s worth the effort.

She uses a lot of role-playing exercises and “sketches” in her lessons, first demonstrating to children the proper way of doing things and then asking them to practice in front of the class.

“Everything I teach, I talk to them about it, then I do it, and then they get up and do it,” she said. “They love getting up and showing off.”

Sometimes, Taylor stresses the need to get along with brothers and sisters. Bathroom sharing, for instance. “You talk in a nice voice. You don’t bang on the door to let you in because she’s not going to let you.”

As for restaurant dining, “it makes the parents proud to be able to take their children out into public and have them behave properly,” Taylor said.

If parents want to enroll their children in the June 25 class, they’d best make that phone call before the class is cancelled. 

And for heaven’s sake, use proper telephone etiquette.

Registration information is available by calling (480) 350-5201. The class fee is $65.