Yes, Manners Matter For Kids — And Parents. Here’s Why.

Proper etiquette can sometimes feel like an old-fashioned concept. But if you’re out to dinner and staring down a place setting full of forks and spoons, knowing which knife to butter your bread roll with is pretty important. Elise McVeigh, a manners and etiquette expert, explains why manners matter for kids (and parents!) and why the rules of etiquette never go out of style.

Let’s talk about etiquette and what it means today.

The term that is currently being used by corporations to describe etiquette is “soft skills.” It encompasses everything related to etiquette and manners. It goes from knowing how to communicate or how to dress. The idea of soft skills can be a modern take on what we’re trying to accomplish, which is teaching people how to have good manners.

How do soft skills/etiquette translate into the workplace?

It does in so many ways. For example, you need to know basic things like sitting straight in your seat and not slouching. Or if you’re meeting someone for the first time and you’re sitting, you should stand when greeting them. It also means having good eye contact, which all translates into looking more confident.

I would think that post-pandemic, etiquette has taken a big hit. Since many families were social distancing, they had to relearn those skills or even learn them for the first time.

Absolutely. After Covid, when people were getting out again, my business saw a huge spike. We had been isolated for so long, and some parents thought that their kids couldn’t socialize anymore. We have a generation of young adults who are struggling.

Let’s talk about your business.

I started about 20 years ago when my third child was just born. I wanted to get out of the house and do something. I was a journalist and had done fundraising previously, but I knew that I liked public speaking and two topics that I loved were etiquette and organizing. Even though I didn’t know a lot about teaching, I tried it, and I loved it.

I formed a class — I had 3 legit students, and I borrowed some other kids! [laughs] It just grew over the years. Once my own kids got older, I started working with Girl Scouts troops, and then I went through a phase where a lot of schools were calling. Now, I do private lessons as well with individuals and groups as well.

I love working on the curriculum. I’m a writer so I love writing the lessons. I write little scripts with my dogs, in an app where they talk, and they give manners tips of the day.

What can people expect from the curriculum?

We have a lot of kids in Texas who say, “Yes ma’am,” and “No ma’am.” They sound very polite, but they might not say a lot beyond that, and so I teach them how to talk a little more. I’ll pretend to be a shy person and have a kid be my assistant and ask me questions. I’ll also say, “Yes ma’am” and “No, ma’am,” and they realize that everyone needs to talk more in order to have a good conversation. I’ll also explain that’s how parents might feel when they’re trying to talk with their kids. It’s about teaching them how to have balanced conversations.

That’s so true. Parents will ask, “How was your day?” and you get an “Okay,” or a “Fine.” And then if you ask, “What did you do today?” the classic answers are: “Nothing,” or “I don’t remember.”

Exactly. After my classes, I’ll send the parents information on how to speak with their kids, and questions they can ask that don’t result in yes or no answers.


What is the one area where kids need the most manners help?

Across the board, it’s communication. When I started, it was all about dining. Kids still need help with table manners, but more importantly, if you can’t communicate, you won’t even get to the dinner table.

I would assume you’d say that teaching manners and etiquette should start as soon as possible.

Yes, we start at age 3. In my classes, we have age-appropriate activities in every lesson, from role playing, coloring sheets, original books, and videos that are all designed to help kids learn and reinforce what they’ve learned.

Now, dining. We have to talk about it. I saw one of your IG posts where you said that you don’t call it silverware unless it’s actually silver, and instead, you call it flatware.

[laughs] Yes. It’s everything from being able to sit still and learning how to take turns in a conversation. It all comes down to practice, practice, practice. For today’s parents, if no one taught them how to properly set a table, they need to learn that as well so that their kids can see how it’s done.

I’m one of those people who always confuses which fork is which.

You’re not alone. Very few people do know. There’s the American style and the European style, and I’ve often seen them mixed, even at fancy restaurants. You might put your fork facing down, and that’s fine if you’re doing that all the way through the meal but many people don’t.

What do you attribute that to?

The fact that we’re not sitting down as a family anymore. Not only are you missing out on correct utensil use, but how to converse, too. When I was younger, my parents would have a guest over, and I’d see them interacting with the person. I would learn a lot from them; for example, I would see how they spoke to each other and the flow of the conversation. I also knew not to jump in and interrupt.

Do you ever find that you need to spruce up your own etiquette skills?

It’s funny, I doubt myself sometimes, because I see the wrong things being done all the time. I once saw online a woman who was getting married and had invited a guest to her wedding shower. The guest then asked, “I didn’t get my invitation to the wedding,” and the bride to be said that she was invited to the wedding. The guest asked her followers if she was wrong, and she said, “Am I wrong or is she wrong?” People had their opinions, but my thought was if someone invited you to their shower, you should be going to their wedding unless it’s a very unusual circumstance. It’s in those moments where I’ll look stuff up and think, “Am I nuts?” [laughs]


I would think that manners and etiquette stay the same for the most part but might adapt to match what’s happening in society, too.

Yes. When Zoom became popular, there were a whole new set of rules for that. I would see people eating on camera, and that’s not a great idea. There definitely are different trends for social media, but manners and etiquette shouldn’t change. They’re there for a reason.

What about thank you notes?

Don’t text someone a thank you note. You need to handwrite it and mail it to them. For younger kids, I would suggest having their parents write it, and when the child is a little older, they can write it in their voice and sign their name. When they’re old enough, they should write it out completely and read it over before mailing it.

People underestimate the importance of handwritten thank you notes. I’ve written thank you notes and seen them tacked up on the recipient’s wall. Since people don’t receive them very often, they become even more special.

What are some things that parents can do to in small increments to teach their child better manners and etiquette?

The biggest thing is to get your kids to the table. No electronics at the table, either in your house or at a restaurant. If you want to keep them occupied, you can give them coloring books.

Practicing the proper etiquette isn’t hard. It just requires commitment and patience. Believe me, having good manners makes all the difference.

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