Mrs. McVeigh's Manners: Teaching Kids Good Manners and Etiquette

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An expert on etiquette and manners shares advice on how to raise children with good manners. Read answers to your questions about behaving at the dinner table, proper etiquette, and more.
Stephanie Rausser
Stephanie Rausser

My kids are 6, 5, and 3 years old. They love to put on a big show when people are over. They assume that because someone is around, they have free range to do whatever they'd like. How do I get them to behave when company is over without looking like a mean parent?
- Becky Wilson

Tell your kids that you love their shows, but explain the guests' time is limited. If they would like to put on a show, then it will be scheduled for a specific time. You can also try role-playing by pretending you are a guest. Knock on a door and instruct your children to have a conversation with you first before being excused to leave and play. Encourage the 6-year-old to take the lead in entertaining the other children. Also, try to have something new or extra fun for them to do when you have a guest over. Practice several times and help them look forward to greeting a real guest.

Elise McVeigh is the founder of Mrs. McVeigh's Manners. She writes a weekly manners column at and broadcasts a regular show at McVeigh resides in Dallas with her husband and three sons, ages 11, 9, and 7.

Image Source/ Veer
Image Source/ Veer

If my 3½-year-old son doesn't hear or understand someone, he says "Whadyousay?" We want him to say something such as "Pardon me," but that's so formal! He is confused if we tell him to say "Excuse me?" because he thinks that is for burping or tooting!
- Amy Daniel Beymer

Short words such as "Sorry?" (asked as a question) might work as well as "Excuse me," with his hand cupped around the ear. When he does get it right, reward him in some way to reinforce the behavior. You can start a "Good Job" jar and fill it with beans or marbles. When the jar is full, reward him with a special treat such as a snack or toy. If he forgets and still says,"Whadyousay?" remove something from the jar.

Do your kids have bad table manners? Help your kids learn how to behave at mealtime.

Stephanie Rausser
Stephanie Rausser

If another child comes to my home, how polite is it for me to say "No" to her about something, such as jumping on my furniture? I don't allow my daughter to jump. If the child does something that is okay in her home but not in mine, should I speak to the child directly, or to her parent? I don't want to confuse my daughter by letting others do the things for which she will be corrected.
- Cady Curran McCarty

When someone is in your house, she needs to follow your rules. Asking a child not to do something in your house is similar to asking an adult not to smoke or to remove shoes before entering. When you're asking a child not to jump on the couch or to have just one cookie, blame it on the "house rules." In a very nice voice say, "Sorry, our house rules say no jumping on the couch. You'll have to stop." You'll be amazed at how quickly kids usually stop. You can even smile and hold out your arms to let the child jump into your arms. Then, redirect the child to a fun activity as a distraction.

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Juice Images/Veer
Juice Images/Veer

How do you teach your kid not to grab other kids' toys out of their hands but still encourage sharing? My 9-month-old goes after other kids' toys in play groups. It's usually okay, but sometimes she tries to grab a toy another child is actively playing with already. Some kids get upset, but others happily hand her the toy. So far, she's not possessive of her own toys.
- Michelle Nicole Noonan

This is normal, and most parents do not take offense. Start by asking your child not to grab toys. Say, "Give back the toy, please. Taking something without asking or without permission is not good manners." Get your child to give back a toy by offering another one. Say, "Abby, that toy is Ryan's toy. Here is a toy for you." Your child will then give back the toy in order to grab the new toy from you. Even if another child hands a toy over, offer your daughter another one so you can emphasize that she shouldn't grab. If the child will not give the toy back, give it back for her. If she gets upset, pick her up and take her to a private corner for comfort. When she does give the toy back, clap, hug, and praise her with "Good girl" or "Good job! You have such great manners!"

Image Source/ Veer
Image Source/ Veer

Why Won't My Son Stop Spitting Out Food?

My 2-year-old likes to spit milk and toss food onto the floor. When something upsets him while he's eating, he throws fits -- and his bowl, plate or cup. It drives me nuts! I've tried explaining that's not how we behave, but he will not stop!
- Mirriah Beck

This is normal developmental behavior that will come to an end. Try role-playing good table manners by making a game and telling your child you are going to pretend that he is Daddy, who will bring you dinner. Get out his mealtime utensils, tell him how much you love what he cooked for you, and show him your good manners. You can say, "Do I have good manners by eating my food and not throwing it?" and "I will help you clean up, so I will bring my plate and cup to the sink." This will motivate your child to be neater when he eats.

Alexandra Grablewski
Alexandra Grablewski

Why Won't My Child Greet People Properly?

What should I do when my 4-year-old puts his coat over his head and says "No!" when being introduced to someone?
- Anna Friesen

A lot of children are very shy at this age, and it can take a little extra practice to get them to have good manners when meeting new people. Ask your child to rehearse a meet-and-greet with you. Before you go to a public place, remind your child to:
1. Use good eye contact
2. Have a firm handshake
3. Use a clear and loud enough voice

I would also suggest going to YouTube and watching my video of Professor Maynard (pronounced Mannered) meeting people. Children respond better to others more than their parents, and they want to please a character they can relate to, such as Professor Maynard.

Fancy Photography/Veer
Fancy Photography/Veer

How Can I Get My Child to Use Utensils?

How do I get my 3-year-old to stop eating with his fingers and use his silverware?
- Emily Schwartz Steele

Utensils feel awkward to young children. Help him practice using utensils without actual food to get his fingers used to a fork and spoon. Show him how to hold a fork correctly by guiding his hand and making the motion of eating. After some practice he will feel comfortable, and he should abandon eating with fingers. Praise him a lot when he sticks with the utensils, and you can reward him for his great manners.

Monica Buck
Monica Buck

Why Won't My Kids Sit Through Dinner?

My boys have a hard time sitting through dinner. They keep getting out of their seats and running around. I try to make sure we eat dinner together at the table every night. How can I make this a more enjoyable experience for everyone?
- Amanda Rushton

Children do have a hard time sitting at the table for extended periods of time, but they can be taught how to sit through the dinner hour. Try to get them talking about their day or any of their favorite subjects. If you can get them distracted from the task of sitting and excited about the conversation, then you should be able to get them to enjoy sitting through dinner. Boys especially love games and challenges, so try setting a timer at the table, choose an allotted time, and ask who can be still the longest. Every day, set the time for five minutes longer, and congratulate your children on daily improvement.

Shannon Greer
Shannon Greer

How Can My Kid Stop Chewing with Her Mouth Open?

My 9-year-old daughter chews with her mouth open and stares at other people at the table while they eat. No matter what I say or how many times I point it out to her, she won't stop. She says she doesn't notice.
- Kimberly Bello

I had a problem with one of my children who would chew with his mouth open. My solution was to get my stand-up makeup mirror and put it on the table in front of him while he ate his dinner. I then had him watch himself eat. After your child sees how unsightly it is to eat with her mouth open, she will probably stop right away. If she forgets, bring the mirror out again as a reminder. Approach it not as a punishment, but as a way to help her see how she presents herself to others.

How Do I Stop My Kid from Watching TV at Dinner?

We always eat together, but our daughter has to have her TV show on or she pitches a fit and will not eat. I have given in. How do I break both of our bad habits?
- Johannah Bruns Back

Tell your daughter that the family (including her) is making a commitment to change the habit of watching TV during mealtimes. Explain that talking to one another during meals is very important because you want to hear about the things that interest her. If she tries to leave the table, tell her she is not allowed to leave until everyone finishes dinner. You might distract her from the protest by making her favorite dish and dessert. Ask her questions, and get her engaged in conversation. After the meal is over, congratulate her on her success, and tell her how much you loved talking as a family.

Copyright &copy 2011 Meredith Corporation.

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