I'm a Mom and an Etiquette Expert: Here's What I'm Teaching My Kid About Manners in a Pandemic

Being polite and treating others with kindness matters more than ever in this time of COVID-19. Here are some rules I teach my kid to live by during these trying times.

An image of stacks of masks.
Photo: Marc Tran/ Stocksy.

We are months into the first (and hopefully last) pandemic of our generation. Our entire lifetime of experience has been thrown up into the air this year; nothing is normal. We find ourselves grappling with old questions in new ways. As parents, we wonder how much or little to adapt our parenting to this unprecedented time. One question we may ask ourselves: do manners matter during a pandemic? My biased opinion? Of course they matter! Manners always matter!

A pandemic is defined as an outbreak of disease prevalent across a whole country or the world; therefore, it naturally affects everyone in society in some way. Etiquette is, by definition, the customary code of polite behavior in a society. Overcoming a pandemic requires polite behavior in society. Teaching your little ones these skills now will keep them safe during the pandemic, as well as make a lasting imprint on their developing minds.

I'm the mother to a 6-year-old, a biology professor, and a lifestyle and etiquette expert. This time of COVID has granted me the opportunity to connect my love and understanding of science to my lessons in manners. COVID has made new rules for etiquette and here's how I make sure my kid proudly abides by them.

No More Shaking Hands

My little one learned to shake hands at 3 years old. Adults would always crack up when she would extend her hand, and I admit it was the cutest thing ever! When the pandemic hit, we had to quickly pivot this life skill. She was used to shaking hands and I had to explain why we needed to stop.

Talking about viruses is abstract to children; they need a way to visualize the concept in order to understand it. Activities simulating the spread of germs inundated the internet at the initial phase of the pandemic. A simple lesson I did with my daughter was to dip the palm of her hand in paint and then have her make as many imprints on a large piece of paper as she could. Then I had her count the number of handprints. I related it to shaking hands with that many people, and thinking about how far her germs can spread. Although a little messy, the lesson demonstrated the impact of how these invisible germs can spread around a community. Coupled with the reminder that we cannot see viruses, these kinds of activities help children understand why we have to stay as clean as possible, to prevent the germs from getting into our bodies.

So while handshakes from kids are adorable and polite, and hugs from friends and neighbors are comforting in uncertain times, the alternative of a friendly wave or a distant elbow bump will suffice for our little humans until we can get the viral bugs under control.

Overcoming a pandemic requires polite behavior in society.

Social Distancing is the New Personal Space

Before pandemic days, the appropriate distance for social space was 18 inches. Teaching personal space to young children is a challenge! I start by emphasizing ownership of their own bodies and explaining that when they feel uncomfortable with the proximity of another person, they should express that. I connect this to how others also have ownership of their bodies, and that everyone gets to choose their level of comfort in and around their own space.

With COVID, it has become necessary for us to extend our social distance to 6 feet, and this conversation with our kids can be a simple transition from the initial lesson. The significance of personal space during a pandemic is that it's truly a matter of public health. To ensure that we show our children what 6 feet looks like, we can practice at home, but we also have assistance in the stores with all of the signage. Reading those signs to our children and teaching them what it looks like will help them comprehend this new distance. I make a game out of it and have my daughter hunt for the social distancing stickers, then we practice together when she finds one.

Teaching your child to have ownership of their body gives them a voice. When someone invades their space, teach them to first try to create additional space. If this fails, teach them to speak up as politely as possible. They will be the best advocates for their own body and space as they grow up, and the earlier they learn how to stand up for themselves in this regard, the better.

Wearing a Mask is Proper

There was no precedent for the newest etiquette rule this year: mask wearing. Showing respect for those around you by keeping your germs to yourself is the most polite thing you can do in present times, and it's a simple etiquette lesson that even small children can understand.

Mirroring the proper way for any kids above 2 to wear a mask is important. Ensure that the mask is above your nose anchored on your chin, and make sure that there are no gaps on the sides. Create a system that will allow your children to check your mask first, followed by you checking theirs.

Make it a three-point check system:

  • Nose covered? Check!
  • Mask under chin? Check!
  • No gaps on the side? Check!

The ultimate etiquette rule is to be considerate of those around you. It's the most polite behavior that you can teach your child. This rule hasn't changed over time, and it will always be relevant, pandemic or not.

Akilah Siti Easter has been immersed in all things etiquette for over 20 years, starting with attending charm school at the age of 8. She takes pride in her non-bourgeois approach, which makes etiquette and lifestyle relatable to all.

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