The way Greenwich mother of three Suzanne Wind sees it, those all-important “little things” (think making eye contact, minding table manners and writing gracious thank- you notes) have become an imperiled art with the younger set.
When it came to raising her two sons and daughter (ages five, ten and eleven), Suzanne was determined that they use the best manners in social situations. “I’m a big believer that you learn by doing, and I wanted to teach my kids that these things set you apart,” says Suzanne. “But in our fast-paced world, it’s so hard to get kids to even look up from their screens.”
So she began to dream up creative ways to get her own clan to practice living a well-mannered life. Her inventive home-etiquette lessons, which she often structured around entertaining games and challenges, eventually evolved into The Smart Playbook, her 2014 activity book targeted to children ages six to twelve. The former marketing executive’s approach to teaching simple social graces keeps manners-practice playful, rewarding kids with small tickets for completing tasks like executing a handshake. “So, after completing several challenges successfully, you might earn thirty tickets you can exchange for a meal at your favorite restaurant,” she explains.
Since it was published last year, Suzanne’s book has won several awards, and her appearances on Fox’s Good Day New York, WCBS radio and Yahoo.com’s Voices have sealed her reputation as an expert on cultivating kids’ manners. She hopes to eventually repeat her success with a follow-up project for teens.
Suzanne shared some tips on introducing much-needed etiquette essentials to youngsters.
Master Small Talk
Even preschoolers should be encouraged to make eye contact with new acquaintances and use names when greeting new people. “Looking someone in the eye can be difficult if your child is shy, so do it little by little,” suggests Suzanne. Start by encouraging them to say hello instead of burying their face in your shoulder.
“I think it’s important for kids to express something great about everyone they meet,” she says. In workshops that Suzanne hosts for local community groups, she introduces the concept by having kids exchange crayon self-portraits, encouraging them to say something nice about the artwork.
Besides teaching children to chew with closed mouths, focus on the intricacies of utensil manipulation. “A lot of kids just grab them,” says Suzanne. “Also have them hand over their cell phones and tablets. As tempting as it is to give them technology to keep them quiet, kids have to learn to interact in a way that’s considerate of those around them.”
“One of the most important things you can teach your kids is that whatever you say [on social media] is public. So the rule is if you wouldn’t say it in person, face-to-face, you shouldn’t put it out there.”
Handmade drawings and cards for coaches and teachers are a great way to introduce the practice of writing thank-you notes. For general notes she says email is okay. “But make it special. Have your child take a picture wearing the sweater they received and attach it to the email.”