Teaching Children Etiquette: It does still matter!


A few months ago, I read a news story about a fourth grade teacher who, once each month, set up her classroom like a fancy restaurant, complete with real tablecloths, silverware, and dishes. Parent volunteers came in to help, and the whole class spent about an hour practicing good manners and etiquette. In the “comments” section below the article, many commenters voiced concern that teachers should be focusing only on the academics, the things that they’re paid to focus on. While I can’t imagine there’s a line for “etiquette” in the report cards in 2013, I could imagine this counting in a classroom participation and cooperation sense. But does this kind of thing really matter anymore? Should we still be teaching kids etiquette?

In my opinion, yes.

Etiquette does still matter in life. In many ways, being well-versed in proper etiquette can help land a first job through mastering polite small talk and basic business dinner dining rules, and it can undoubtedly help socially as kids graduate from college free-for-all house parties and enter the awkward “first date dinners” of the early 20’s and beyond. I’m not talking about the kind of etiquette that involves knowing your snail fork from your oyster fork, but simple, napkin-in-your-lap and please-pass-the-pepper kind of etiquette.

Etiquette schools are still alive and well, and many private schools still teach etiquette as an important part of the curriculum. In our own state, there are many venues offering etiquette lessons, some for children as young as three years old through adulthood. Topics include everything from how to behave during a formal occasion such as a wedding to how to “take the high road” and respond to bullying when you see it happening. Should these things be taught and reinforced at home? Absolutely. But for one reason or another, parents are still worried about ensuring their children know proper social etiquette enough to pay for it as an extracurricular activity.

In fact, one could argue that there’s even more to learn about proper etiquette in the modern world than in previous years. E-mails, texts, and video calls are now fair game for communication in the business world. We need to make sure our kids know when it’s ok to send out a “thx–c u soon” and when a more formal “Thanks for confirming. I’m looking forward to meeting you on Friday” is required. This is somewhat unchartered territory for both parents and teachers. Where does it fit in? Should parents be the only ones worrying about etiquette, or should schools return to ensuring that their students know the social graces that will surely help them in life? Does your child’s school teach etiquette?

He may have mastered the wine glass, but the fork is clearly another story...
He may have mastered the wine glass, but the fork is clearly another story…

14 comments on “Teaching Children Etiquette: It does still matter!”

  1. Thank you for this post! I teach Etiquette out of my music school in Manchester (The MusicMakers Academy), and through my facebook page Paula Penna’s Excellent Etiquette. I was teaching “music etiquette” to our students to help them with their recitals, and out of that sprung regular etiquette classes (the parents asked me to!). I now have Excellent Etiquette for the Holidays, Dude, That’s Rude! class for boys, girls’ etiquette, business etiquette that I teach at the high school and college level, and Netiquette – as you addressed here, this is SO important! I had a friend tell me recently that she thinks is its “crazy” for parents to “pay” for etiquette classes, or for schools to offer such classes. But, your article explains the “why” perfectly. Thank you!

    1. Thank you for commenting! Those classes sound fantastic!! I will certainly be enrolling my boys in some classes when they’re older. Feel free to share my article for anyone wondering “why”! It’s definitely something I value very much.

  2. Thanks for writing this! I find this so hard to teach when it seems so rare and hard to find. There are two few places for the kids to learn it organically.

  3. YES it’s important! But I agree with Vivian that manners (more broadly defined) is even more important. To me, manners is all of the dinner table stuff PLUS please and thank you, not cutting in lines, cell phone etiquette, chewing gum with your mouth open (or at all, really, but that’s just me), etc. Not being rude. I want my kids to have good manners and be respectful while still expressing their opinions and feelings and standing up for themselves; those goals are not mutually exclusive. Love this post!

  4. YES, YES and YES! Love this post. Proper business and social etiquette is essential and more important than ever in our global society.

  5. This is a great topic. I believe that etiquette and manners are so important (but not to the extreme like Viv’s friend!) In my job as a trainer many times I’m called upon to teach “professional skills” to the new crop of employees entering the workforce for the first time. It really comes down to manners and business etiquette. There still is a need for it, so why not start early?

    1. Yes! I think if you start early it’s much less overwhelming and can become second nature. I’m honestly considering sending my boys to etiquette classes in high school. They will probably hate every second of it, but I do think it’s that important!

  6. There’s a pretty fine line between etiquette and manners. I have a friend who teaches etiquette to children and whenever we go out, she drives us all bonkers because she nits on stuff like proper placement of napkins, how to manage your water glass and silverware, etc. Poor manners to correct others about their poor etiquette behaviors!!! LOL.

    Love that pic of the orange juice glass!

    1. Oh my gosh. It’s appalling that someone who teaches etiquette to children wouldn’t know that correcting others (who are not her own children) outside of her etiquette classes is the HEIGHT of poor etiquette. Yikes. I agree that it is a fine line between etiquette and manners.

  7. I love this post!!!!! Years ago a co-worker told me a story of how the boss would take potential employees out to lunch as part of the interview.. He specifically paid attention to weather or not they tasted their food “before” they added salt or pepper. Much can be learned about a person by how they behave in a restaurant.

    1. Thanks so much! Yes! Business meals honestly CAN make or break your chance at a job. We can argue that they shouldn’t, but the fact is, they do. I think we are doing a disservice to kids if we don’t let them in on the secrets of proper etiquette so they can pull it out when it matters and not risk their hard academic work being passed over simply because they don’t know the social code. Great story!!

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