"All manners should be used every day, but there are certain things we need to be sure to emphasize around the holidays," says Cindy Post Senning. "With everybody so busy and so much going on, people tend to get grumpy, and I like to remind kids that it's particularly important to go out and smile, greet people, and make an effort to make people cheerier." On Friday, December 8, Senning will appear at the Children's Place in the new Otay Ranch Town Center in Chula Vista to read excerpts from her new book, Emily's Everyday Manners, written with Peggy Post and illustrated by Steve Björkman. The book is targeted at children aged four to seven.
"When you give someone a gift," Senning tells children, "look them in the eye and smile. Give joy with that gift. Say, 'Happy Holidays,' or 'I picked this out especially for you.' This helps to make the giving act more genuine, and that's what you really want to do." Senning focuses on what she calls the "triangle of magic words," the three points of which are "please," "thank you," and "you're welcome."
One of Senning's pet peeves is failure to express gratitude. "People don't acknowledge their appreciation, not just for gifts, but when people do something nice for them. It's harder to get kids to say 'thank you' than to say 'please,' because 'please' usually comes before they get the thing they want, and 'thank you' gets lost in the excitement after they get it. It takes nagging and reminding and remembering.
"But," Senning says, "we must teach [manners] to kids when they're developmentally ready for them. Just like you wouldn't expect a four-year-old to handle a piano concerto, but [it's realistic] they might know how to play "Chopsticks" if they begin learning their scales at a certain age." Greeting others is one example of a social interaction that requires developmental readiness. "For a three-year-old, it's hard to look someone in the eye," says Senning.
"My other peeve about manners with kids is when I look about me and see people having expectations of their kids that are not realistic, by either overexpecting or underexpecting. The bratty kid thing is underexpecting -- people think a three-year-old can't hold still for a few minutes, but they can. You just have to pay attention to them and [take the time] to deal with them. Underexpectation leads to kids behaving in ways that are inconsiderate to those around them."
Overexpecting is demanding more from a child than he or she is developmentally able to give. "When someone comes into our sphere of influence, we greet them -- that's the respectful thing to do. Babies learn this when we teach them to say 'hi' and 'bye.' A two-year-old might get really shy and hide behind your leg. [A child] may be four years old before [he] steps out from behind your leg and says, 'hi.' Some can earlier, but some can't."
Senning says manners do not seem to differ based on social class but they do differ regionally. "The main one is the way children address adults. Where I'm from [Northeastern U.S.], it's not unusual for adults to ask kids to call them by their first name. But in the South I'm called 'ma'am' and 'Mrs. Senning.' What is respectful is for children to call adults by what the adult prefers. The default is that kids should always call adults by their title and last name, and let the adult give direction. If I say, 'You should call me Cindy, all the kids do,' it's really more respectful for them to call me Cindy. But I must do my part to be respectful of the regional custom."
Manners change with the times: Emily Post, Senning's great-grandmother, could not have foreseen today's need for cell phone guidelines when she published Etiquette, her book on social propriety, in 1922. One changing custom is that of opening doors for ladies. "What we say is, in business etiquette, it's gender neutral," says Senning. "Whoever gets to the door first should open the door. Holding chairs in business situations is also gender neutral. But it never hurts. If a guy isn't sure -- if he offers to hold the chair or the door by saying, 'Can I get the chair or door for you?' -- then she's in a position to say, 'Yes, thank you!' or 'No, thank you, I can get it for myself. '"
The underlying philosophy of social grace has remained consistent, as evidenced by these words penned by Emily Post, the matron of manners, over 80 years ago: "Manners are made up of trivialities of deportment which can be easily learned if one does not happen to know them; manner is personality -- the outward manifestation of one's innate character and attitude toward life." -- Barbarella
Holiday Manners workshop and book signing with Cindy Post Senning
Friday, December 8
Two sessions: 1:15 to 2 p.m. and
2:15 to 3 p.m.
The Children's Place at Otay Ranch Town Center
Olympic Parkway at Eastlake Drive
Info: 619-216-5261 or http://emilyseveryday.emilypost.com