William Hanson from etiquette consultancy firm The English Manner and Maggie Bolger, co-owner of Kensington family club Maggie & Rose, share their wisdom on teaching children the fine art of good manners...
Why is teaching etiquette so important?
WH: Etiquette and manners are all about interacting with people and how to do it with respect for others, as well as self-respect. Children must be taught these valuable skills or else they will grow up with little concern for the feelings of other people. Manners are self-less; a lot of the problems we have in Britain today are down to selfishness. Children are the future and so must be taught good manners & etiquette in order to ensure that our society does not break down even further.
What are the most important lessons in etiquette for children to learn?
MB: Please and thank you are so important – there is nothing I dislike more than a rude child. We insist on it in all of our classes and I am quite a tough cookie with my own children. Whenever possible we eat together, and have done since they were small. They have had it drilled into them that they must thank the person who has cooked for them and ask their permission to leave the table, we have always pulled them up on this constantly and now it is second nature to them. Also I force them to write thank you cards for every gift they receive as I think it is really important that they never become complacent about been given anything.
WH: I would say that routine, table manners and discipline are some the first lessons that they must learn. Children thrive on routine and structure. So many parents now are busy, busy, busy. Rushing to and from this and that and forgetting that the poor child needs a routine and regularity in order to thrive. They are only young! We live in a time poor society and I can see how it has become very easy to forget to instil good manners in the future of our world.
When should you start teaching etiquette?
WH: Day one! Obviously they don't need to be writing thank you letters the second they pop out of the womb, but on a subconscious level children will be learning – they are incredibly perceptive and if they grow up seeing their parents behaving badly, using bad language, not sitting together at meal-times then they will assume that is the norm and emulate that behaviour throughout their own life.
Have you children ever made any faux pas?
MB: All the time! My son's table manners resemble those of a monkey. We have berated and yelled but he just doesn’t get it, so recently at a lunch with friends he was doing his thing and his godmother actually got up and made a point of showing him how to eat at her table in front of everyone – mortifying for us – but it worked! I said to him ‘see it’s not just me being an nagging mum, people notice these things!’ He ate his whole meal perfectly!
How can you make learning etiquette fun?
WH: One of the great challenges I have found throughout my career in teaching etiquette (to all ages and levels) is making what can appear to be a starchy and boring subject entertaining and fun. Gentle humour, thinking about the people you are talking to and what they will understand or not, and including fun activities and incentives is a good start.
This half-term, on February 15, Maggie & Rose is hosting a special Elbows Off The Table dining etiquette workshop, led by William Hanson. The workshop will include everything from setting the table, to how to hold a knife and fork and excusing oneself at the end of a meal. Children will also learn how to cook a delicious three-course meal. For further details, please visit Maggie & Rose online.