How can I teach my child appropriate manners for a restaurant or other public place?

How can I teach my child appropriate manners for a restaurant or other public place?

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There are two kinds of manners: those based on a genuine concern for others, and those that fall into the category of "formality." Your child will develop both kinds of manners as he develops socialization skills and his sense of empathy. Here are some ways to help gently speed that process along:

• Be realistic. Behaving in a public place often means sitting still and keeping quiet — skills that don't come easily to most kids, who are by nature self-centered and impulsive. If your child is simply unable to follow the rules, take heart in the fact that most "misbehavior" in public places is more often connected to your child's developmental stage than to a willful intent to behave badly.

• Clearly explain your expectations to your child before arriving at the locale. Lay the groundwork with a few simple expectations in positive terms: For instance, say, "This is going to be a meal you'll really enjoy and a time for us to talk together, but you can't run around or talk too loud because it bothers the other people there who are also trying to have a good time." Or, "I'll read to you about the yummy food they have on the menu, and you can order for yourself. But remember to speak to the waiter in an inside voice and to say 'thank you.'"

• Stick to the rules you've set. If you back down in public on the expectations you've established, you'll be sending a mixed message and your child will probably push the envelope. You don't need to become angry, however, or shame your child if he's finding it impossible to sit still. This will leave him feeling embarrassed and he'll connect these negative feelings with excursions to public places. Simply leave quietly, being firm and clear about why you are doing so.

• Foster good manners at home. Consistency is important in helping young children to incorporate socialization skills, so try to have a basic set of rules your child must follow at home so that behaving properly in a public place comes more easily. Of course, there are differences between behavior in the home and behavior outside the home, so do your best to point out these subtleties to your child. For example, explain that mealtimes at home are generally more relaxed, voices can rise and fall, you "eat what Mom or Dad has cooked for you" rather than ordering, and family members usually clear their own plates from the table. But emphasize that courtesy and nice conversation is important in both places.

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