Beach BudsWe believe that one of the building blocks of fostering good relationships is being easy and comfortable with conversation in everyday social situations, such as at work, school, the drugstore, the gym, etc.  Having a friendly demeanor, grace and tact in everyday conversation are learned skills that take practice.  Many of us hone these skills through experience.  Often, this happens as we get older, move away from home, and become independent.

When I look back on my younger years, I realize that I only began thoughtfully considering my social etiquette in college, where I found myself in a new city full of strangers and a variety of cultural and societal norms that I was a bit unfamiliar with.  I grew up in a small island community where everyone knew each other or were somehow connected, and this set a scene for mostly casual, comfortable personal interactions.  I didn’t consider myself uncouth or anti-social, but apprehensive and awkward at times.  I think that this resulted in somewhat holding myself back on exploring a handful of opportunities.  As the saying goes, I lived and learned, and I am appreciative for my experiences as it helped me grow.

As a mom, I want to help my children develop to manage social situations with finesse and savvy, beyond saying “please” and “thank you.”  Children can use gentle grooming on everyday conversation from when they are very young.  The earlier they start, the more practice they will have and more refined they will be as they navigate life.

Here are 8 basic lessons to teach children about everyday social interaction:

  1. Maintain eye contact – In conversation, always look at the other party directly in the eye.
  2. Say hello, good morning, good bye, and be versed in small talk – Salutations are polite ways to announce comings and goings.  They also lets others know that you respect and recognize their presence.  Teach children to respond likewise when they are asked, “How are you?”  Children have a tendency to answer questions quickly and simply to adults.  Encourage them to follow their answer with a question of their own, like “How are you?” or “How was your weekend?”
  3. Knock on a door before entering, even if it’s open – We all know that it’s necessary to knock on a closed door; however, remind your children to knock on an open door as well.  It’s a courteous gesture to politely introduce yourself to the person in the room or office that you would like to speak with.
  4. Introduce yourself – Instruct children to introduce themselves by saying their first and last name, affiliation, and what they want. For example when walking into the school health room say, “Hello. My name is Rory Williams from Mrs. Snow’s class.  I am here because I have a headache and would like to lie down.”
  5. Make introductions to others – There are many situations in which children end up in groups where some of the kids may not know each other.  Guide your child to make introductions when they are the common link between individuals.  Teach them to introduce the others and how they know each individual, such as, “Hey Jack, this is Jill, my friend from church. Jill, this is Jack. He plays on my soccer team.”
  6. Address adults by “ma’am” or “sir” – Children can’t go wrong by addressing adults in this manner.  If your child is unsure about a person’s name, “sir” or “ma’am” is always appropriate.
  7. Say “excuse me” –  This is another way to instruct children to announce themselves.  If they walk into a busy store and all of the employees are occupied but they need to ask a question, tell them to start the conversation with “Excuse me.” This is a polite, acceptable way to interrupt.
  8. Hold the door open for others – Teach children to be conscious of others entering buildings or rooms when they are near doorways.  Have them hold the door open for others.  In doing so, they should look the person in the eye and smile as the other person walks through the door.  This is an easy way to show them to think of others, and generate positivity with everyday interactions.

Remember, practice is key to being at ease everyday.  Role play with your children.  Prepare and prompt them to take advantage of everyday situations, such as introducing themselves to their teacher on the first day of school, conversing with the dentist about a toothache, or purchasing their own shoes at the store.  Have your child order for themselves at a restaurant, special requests (“Hold the pickles, please.”) and all.  These are safe ways, under your guidance, for your children to interact with individuals and generate everyday banter.  Soon, these interactions will become natural to them.

Coaching children on social etiquette and everyday conversation is a wonderful way to help them to communicate effectively with everyone they come into contact with and maximize all of their relationships.

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