Thursday, October 27, 2011

Manners Monday - "Tricks are For Kids" - Halloween Etiquette Primer for Kids of all Ages

Kids of all ages love Halloween. Young children begin prompting their parents for costumes as early as August. Some of them have been planning which superhero or princess they want to be months prior while others can't wait to visit the pumpkin patches and eat candy corn till their hearts are content. Many celebrate with Halloween parties and decorated houses and a few skip the festivities altogether preferring to curl up on the couch watching a scary movie. However you choose to acknowledge the holiday, parents and children alike should take a moment to review our essential Halloween etiquette tips on how to survive the night of fright!

Trick-or-Treating. Halloween is a perfect "training" time to teach children how to mind their "P's" & "Q's." After just a few house visits, your two year old will be an expert! Begin trick or treating at dusk while there is still some light for safety. Try not to crowd or stampede the doorways or lean on doorbells. Teach your children to be patient and polite and to remember the all important "please" when they ask for a treat and "thank you" when they receive it. There is nothing like seeing a ghost or goblin at your front door with impeccable manners. At least one parent should accompany all children up to the age of twelve. Trick-or-treating should generally end around 9pm as most families with children and older adults are preparing for bed by that time. 

Neighborhoods. It is perfectly acceptable to travel outside one’s own neighborhood, particularly, for children who live in a hillside neighborhood without sidewalks or for children who may be living in a neighborhood that is less than child-friendly. However, if you do decide to leave your neighborhood, the next best thing is to trick-or-treat in a neighborhood that you are familiar with or that is the neighborhood of a friend. If a house is dark and all the lights are turned off, this is the unwritten signal that the family is not participating in the ritual or may not even be at home.

Costumes. As far as costumes for children, the general rule is that they be kid-friendly. Politically incorrect outfits or very scary horror costumes are not considered appropriate. Older teens and adults may choose to let their wild imagination get the best of them, however, etiquette dictates that whatever they choose, they should try to be considerate of others and their environment. Ask yourself one simple question, "Is my costume disrespectful or would it offend or scare another person at the party"? If the answer is yes, then find an alternate choice. 

Candy.  It's amazing how much power is packed into this 5-letter word.  The mere mention of candy sends kids into a feeding frenzy. They will do anything for it!!  The number one rule with Halloween candy is to make sure parents have checked it before it is eaten. Children should also stay away from candy that is handmade or specially prepared unless you know the family. As far as managing their intake and what to do with all of their leftover loot, my daughters' school had some fabulous suggestions for young children:  (1) Allow small children to choose 3 treats as they’re trick-or-treating and save the rest. Then suggest they select 5 more pieces to keep and leave the remainder out for the Sugar Witch who picks up the candy while they’re sleeping and leaves a small gift behind.  (2) Set up a Halloween shop where your child can “buy” small items: toys, books, hair-clips, cool pens, etc. for every 6 oz or 4 bars of candy they use as currency.  (3) Let them choose to keep the candy at the rate of one piece every two days or opt to swap it in for any toy $10 or less at Toys R Us they want. For other alternatives and candy donations, check out for a variety of ways to contribute your unwanted treats. 

Halloween Parties. Anyone with a birthday in October knows how much fun it can be to have a Halloween party. Encourage everyone to come dressed in costume to help set the tone for the party. Create a festive atmosphere by throwing on a scary movie in the background along with a soundtrack of spooky music.  Remember if you are hosting the party, be a gracious host and provide plenty of treats for your guests.  To cater to everyone, try to include a few health conscious options.  Make sure to be a good ghoul guest as well. Don't forget to bring a birthday gift or host gift for the party-giver as a thank you for including you in the celebration.

Pranks and Tricks. Halloween is meant to be fun, but not at the expense of others. Contrary to what we might see on television or in the movies, it is not an opportunity to toilet paper an individuals front yard or throw eggs at their front door. It also does not give one free reign to steal or damage pumpkins or other decorations. It is wise to stay away from anything that could potentially cause property damage as these types of pranks are not only dangerous, but illegal. If pranks and tricks are a must, try creating an imaginative fun house or haunted house for your friends and other guests to experience.

Safety First. It is best to have ample supplies on hand for emergencies. Sidewalks can be treacherous and lawns lined with electrical cords can be dangerous. Come prepared with flashlights to use to make sure you do not trip or fall. Keep a couple of Band Aids and some Neosporin on hand should minor accidents occur. Make sure to look both ways before crossing the streets. Although, there are more pedestrians out than usual, it is still dark and drivers may not be able to see clearly. Adults and children should stick together at all times. There is nothing more difficult than trying to track down a small child in the pitch black of night.

Guidelines for Older Children. Before the evening begins, parents should lay down a few ground rules with regard to expected behavior, general safety and curfew.  With regard to trick-or-treating, a child who has reached the age of sixteen or seventeen should retire their pumpkin candy bag for good.  When it comes to costumes, older children and teens should not let their wild imagination get the best of them. They can still wear something creative that is not disrespectful or offensive to others.  If they are attending a Halloween party, check to make sure there is a chaperon in attendance and that no alcoholic beverages are being served. If in doubt, offer to chaperon yourself. Curfew times should be age appropriate and explained before anyone leaves the house.

Any other Halloween etiquette tips you'd like to share that have worked for you and your family?  Please share with us.  We'd love to hear from you!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Manners Monday – "Other People’s Unruly Kids" – How & When to Broach the Subject

I was interviewed by Martha Stewart Living Radio this morning on the subject of other people’s ill-mannered children and how to broach the subject with the little rascals and their parents when their bad behavior starts to rub off on your own children.  

As parents we’ve all had our fair share of experience with other people’s unruly kids.  If we’re lucky, we can steer clear of them by staying as far away as possible.  But what can you do, when the offending children are your own family members or the children of your closest friends?  That creates quite the sticky situation that requires the perfect amount of finesse.  We all parent differently, everybody has their own set of priorities and values, but when little Timmy’s horrific manners start to rub off on my impressionable girls, then that’s where I draw the line.  I don’t care if he is their first cousin or a friend from school.  Something’s gotta give and someone’s gonna hear about it!

Unfortunately, regardless of how stringent we are with instilling our own children with good manners, it takes just one encounter with a child who is misbehaving to seemingly obliterate all the work we have done. It is part of human nature that our children be lured towards the boorish side of bad rather than the genteel side of good and there’s not much we can do about it other than to try to pick up the pieces and hope that, like riding a bicycle, our children will remember to find their natural balance again. 

So what are our best tactics for eliciting the best behavior in our own kids as well as other children and how can we gently broach the subject with our friends and family members when their kids act out without turning it into a scene from “God of Carnage?”  Here are our top tips below. 

·        Tread lightly on the subject.  You don’t want to feel helpless, but it can be extremely frustrating trying to communicate the gravity of a situation when it is falling on deaf ears.  This is especially true when you encounter parents who ignore their children’s rude behavior and think they can do no wrong. Before launching into a tirade however, first remember to give others the benefit of the doubt. You never know if a parent is having a particularly rough day and therefore their children are too.  If the parent appears plain irresponsible, then your next course of action is to speak up, just be careful to tread lightly so as not to offend. Many parents will become quickly defensive and tend to blame the accuser for being too sensitive. Chances are if the children are a certain way, so are the parents.  After all, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

·        Our control is limited.  No matter how hard we try, we cannot control other children’s behavior, we can only control the behavior of our own children.  If you discover that the uncontrollable actions of your friends and family members’ children are beginning to affect the behavior of your own children, you have a few options. (1) You may schedule future outings with the children at a neutral location rather than in the home. (2) You can advise your child to befriend other children (this works with friends only, unfortunately we do not get to choose our family), and (3) You can politely decline future plans with the child when asked (again this works much better with friends than family). With family, you should not have to stand on ceremony or make up excuses. A calm, straightforward conversation might do the trick and even bring everyone a little closer in the end.

·        Know when to speak up.  If another unruly child is hurting your child, either physically or by being verbally abusive, then a parent must step in.   It is our duty as to make sure our children are protected and unharmed. This communication should be handled by phone or with a face-to-face conversation.  An email, text or any other form of electronic communication would be detrimental to the situation as it is crucial that facial expressions, body language and tone all be considered during the exchange.

·      Eliminate the drama.  Without placing blame or adding unnecessary drama, parents can get their point across in one of two ways.  (1) Befriend the parent and feign camaraderie with a tale of how your older child used to do the same terrible thing, but thankfully grew out of it or (2) Hitting the subject head on and explaining in very simple terms your personal rules for conduct and behavior.  The first way is advised if you care to have a future relationship with the parent and the second is for those parents you intend to stay far away from at all costs.

·       Addressing the child directly. The easiest place to address the child is when they are playing in your home under your roof.  Before the play date even begins you can sit both parties down and go over house rules: no jumping on the furniture, no throwing balls, no running in the house, all food is to be eaten in the kitchen or dining area, etc.  If the child ignores the rules, you can give them a warning that their parent will be called and then 3 strikes you’re out.  At a park, if a child is invading your child’s space, you may suggest to the child to play nicely and then keep a close watch to make sure they stay in line.

The bottom line is, it is truly the parent’s responsibility to teach their children good manners by setting boundaries and instilling consequences for unacceptable behavior.  It is not about being their child’s best friend, but rather about teaching them guidelines for living that will boost their confidence and increase their self-esteem.  They may not love you for it in the moment, but they will learn to respect you for it in the long run.   

Have any nightmare stories to share about other people's unruly children and the tactics you used to restore order?  We'd love to hear from you!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Manners Monday – "Life Lessons from Steve Jobs: Grit, Resilience & Gratitude"

Sunday, October 16th was declared “Steve Jobs Day” in the State of California by our Governor, Jerry Brown. The acknowledgement pays homage to the tech genius who transformed the way we lived and who passed away years too soon from a long battle with pancreatic cancer.  His memorial took place on Stanford University’s campus, the same grounds where he recited his now infamous commencement speech for the graduating class of 2005

On the day of his passing, the commencement address circulated like wildfire and I re-read it again, along with so many others, with tears in my eyes and feelings of grief for yet another life taken before their time.  I thought about my two young girls and how they have their whole lives ahead of them to hopefully discover something they are passionate about so that they can begin to make their mark in the world. 

As parents, we spend a great deal of time banging our heads against the wall trying to figure out the best course of action for our children that will provide them with the skills to evolve into happy, successful, fulfilled adults.  While there are no sure things and, I personally feel a lot of parenting has to do with prayer and luck, I do feel there are some extremely valuable lessons to be learned from this pioneer who broke out of the norm, stayed determined and triumphed over and over again.  Steve Job’s achievements were enormous and took tremendous imagination and tenacity, but to me it was his remarkable grit, resilience and gratitude that kept him going and allowed him to attain such colossal success. 

In a world where parents are overly protective of their kids, will do anything to prevent them from experiencing hardship and mistakenly provide them with all they desire leading to entitlement, the life lessons learned from these three traits are more critical now than ever.  There is nothing wrong with helping our children develop a thicker skin, encouraging them to work through difficulty even when it feels uncomfortable and inspiring them to forge ahead on the road less traveled if it is their passion. It’s called building good character. 

Grit. Especially today, when our young children are faced with so many challenges, grit stands out for me as a characteristic that is vital to their survival.  If my girls have an altercation with another child, I encourage them to try and work it out amongst themselves rather than stepping in to save the day.  I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a little adversity. Although I speak to my girls about inclusion, I also share with them that not everyone has to love everyone all the time. This is part of life and sometimes they will be disappointed and their feelings will be hurt. I want to encourage my daughters to stand up for themselves and be able to speak their minds if they are not being treated with respect. I want them to have the tools to fight their own battles rather than interceding, unless of course, things get out of hand and it is necessary for a parent to step in. I would much rather my girls learn how to be courageous and determined on the playground in the hopes that they might have an easier time applying these skills to the boardroom. Steve Jobs showed grit when he dropped out of college after realizing that his parent’s money would be better spent by him taking courses that truly interested him rather than those that were required.

Resilience. Equally important, in my book, is raising children with resilience and the ability to bounce back.  As much as I wish this wasn’t true, life is full of disappoint and set back’s and the earlier children are familiar with this notion, the better.  While I don’t wish to scare my daughters or prevent them from being happy, carefree kids, I feel it is critical that they develop a healthy layer of thick skin so that they can forge through an uncomfortable situation or learn to finish what they start to feel that sense of achievement. I believe it’s my job to motivate them, to help turn their hesitance into confidence.  I want them to understand that a silly fight with a friend does not have to be debilitating, that they have the power within themselves to turn a situation around or move on if they so choose to.  I want them to feel confident with their decisions, but if they discover something isn’t working to have the strength and perseverance to go in a different direction rather than throw in the towel in defeat.   After Steve Jobs got fired from Apple, he didn’t lose faith, he didn’t settle.  Instead, he displayed surprising resilience by picking himself up and starting a new venture which also became wildly successful called NeXT.

Gratitude.  I cannot think of a more valuable asset than the ability to be grateful, particularly when there are so many children that seem to err on the side of entitlement.  To teach children to apply themselves, to respect themselves and to be thankful each day will ensure their happiness, for it is virtually impossible to be happy if you are not grateful for what you have. I hope to impart this concept to my girls so that they will never take anything for granted, but rather learn to appreciate the miracles of life both big and small. Whether they write a thank you note to a friend for a sleepover or give a giant hug to their grandparents for taking them to Disneyland, I want them to learn that being grateful not only feels good personally, but it reaps everlasting rewards with others. Steve Jobs exemplified gratitude in the tremendous effort he put into his work, from painstakingly figuring out the colors of each new product to taking such pleasure in personally presenting them to his audience at each new launch.  He seemed eternally grateful for his amazing success and it showed up to his very last day…

How do you feel about instilling these traits in your children? Do you have other attributes you find more important?  Share with us.  We'd love to hear from you! 

Monday, October 10, 2011

"Manners Monday" - Hey You Guys! How to Properly Address the Fairer Sex

My daughters had their aunt and cousins from Seattle visit with us last weekend for the holidays.  We were six girls living under the same roof (my husband was at home too, but this article is about the ladies).  As you can imagine, there was a lot of female bonding and also a fair amount of primping and coiffing.  The young girls, ages four to nine, would spend the longest time getting ready.  They were experimenting with makeup (all for fun of course!), spritzing the perfume, trying on different outfits, coordinating accessories and basically preparing to make their grand entrance at any time.  On occasion, emotions ran high, feelings got hurt and someone inevitably ended up in tears, but all in all it was a wonderful time together and we can’t wait for them to return soon!    

Over the course of our weekend, I noticed a particular trend, a common expression that seemed to roll off the tongue of everyone that seemed to address our group.  Here we were, a clique of only females and still we were being addressed as “guys!!”  “Hey you guys.”  “What would you guys like to order?”  “Do you guys want to go swimming?”  You get the point.  Since when did this expression come to be acceptable when addressing members of the fairer sex?  Why is it that when a group of women are altogether, they are still perpetually referred to as “guys?”  I started dreaming up ways to tabulate how many times we would be addressed as guys throughout the day and fantasized about receiving a $5.00 bill for each time the word was mentioned.  I imagined it wouldn’t take long for me to retire on my earnings. 

Looking back, I tried to remember when I first heard the words uttered and I was reminded of an old skit from the “Electric Company” that I used to watch in the early 70’s (oops, I’m dating myself).  The sketch featured Rita Moreno and Bill Cosby as grocers who were supposed to deliver bottles of milk.  When they arrived at the door, there was a torn note with a half-written message that was hard to decipher.  To get the attention of the people inside, Rita Moreno began to holler at the top of her lungs, “Hey you guys!”  That was more than thirty years ago and the expression still lives on.  Our modern day television is filled with characters constantly referring to one another as “you guys” regardless of gender.  

The question remains, why hasn’t “hey you girls” or “hey girls” caught on in more social circles, especially when the conversation is geared solely towards a group of ladies, women or girls without any male presence in sight?  Although the expression, “you guys” may sound more casual, I think it’s high time we incorporated a bit more formality when referring to the ladies.  After all, I think we deserve it!  And while we’re on the subject, how about a little refresher on the variety of social titles one might use to address a lady. 

Mrs. Traditionally, a woman’s marital status dictated her social title; therefore, the use of the title Mrs. came to be closely associated with a woman who was married.  For example, a woman who was married to Mr. John Smith, became Mrs. Smith when she married and used the full name, Mrs. John Smith, in social situations. The woman would use the title Mrs. along with her first name only in the event of divorce in which case she would be referred to as Mrs. Susan Smith. 

Ms.  The use of the title, Ms., became popular in the early 1970’s and became an all-purpose title of address used for a woman who was single, married or using their professional name. We typically refer to this as the title to use, when in doubt. 

Miss.  The title Miss is still used to refer to a woman usually around the age of 15 or younger.  Miss is also used as an alternative to Ms. with certain unmarried women who prefer to use the more traditional title.  The dance world has also incorporated the use of the title Miss as most instructors introduce themselves using the title Miss followed by their first name and this is the way prefer their students to address them.

Ma’am.   The title Ma’am was typically used in the Southeast region of the United States as a show of courtesy and respect towards another female.  The term was never intended to be used with women of similar age or status. This title carries with it a certain stigma as some women find the term to label them as matronly or old and would prefer to be called the more appealing title Ms. or Miss. 

Madam or MadameThis title is reserved to politely address a French woman whether she is married or unmarried.  It is the equivalent of using the titles Mrs. or Ms. 

Where do you stand on the use of "you guys?"  Do you abuse this phrase or do you make concessions when addressing just the ladies?  Share with us.  We'd love to hear from you!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Manners Monday – “Keeping Our Eyes Wide Open” - Eye Contact Etiquette

In an age where the majority of our gaze is focused down at our smart phones or in front of our computers, the act of looking someone in the eye seems almost ancient.  So much of our daily communication is spent online that we rarely have an opportunity to engage in face-to-face interactions.  How many times have we seen the E-troduction used over the in-person introduction or a conversation occur over text rather than at a neighborhood cafe?  It’s not surprising that many people have a problem with making proper eye contact, and it’s only getting worse!  

When I survey parents on what issues they would like to see improved with their children’s manners, one of the most common responses I receive is the concern over their children not making proper eye contact with adults. Meanwhile, there are a great number of adults who could benefit from a bit of coaching in this area!

Eye contact is a big deal in this country.  First and foremost, it is a sign of respect.  Secondly, it is a confirmation that lets another person know we are paying attention to them and interested in what they have to say.  Parents will repeatedly remark to their children to look at them when they are speaking so that they are assured their children are listening.  This parent/child dynamic regarding eye contact begins at an early age (about 6 to 8 weeks old to be exact) when a baby first registers its parent’s familiar face and is able to follow them with their eyes.

In the hope that we’ll still have plenty of excuses to make direct eye contact in the future, we have compiled below several tips on eye contact etiquette we hope you'll find handy.

Eyes are the Window to the Soul.  Our eye contact is a non-verbal form of communication that reveals not only how we feel about the people we are talking to, but also how we feel about ourselves.  When we are feeling confident, secure and in control, we have no trouble making direct eye contact with others, but it is when we are feeling vulnerable, insecure or shy that our eyes want shift downward towards the floor or away from others.  Whether we give someone a quick glance, a cold stare or a lingering gaze, can be very telling of our emotions towards a person at any given time.

Get into the Zone. For those with varying degrees of comfort with eye contact, there are alternatives to looking someone directly in the eyes.  An equally pleasing middle ground is to transfer your focus towards other parts of the face.  You can even visualize a triangle on the other person’s forehead and shift your gaze there instead.  Good eye contact should be made 40-60 percent of the time.  Any less and a person is perceived as suspicious or concealing something and any more tends to make people feel as if they are being scrutinized or put on the spot. Striking the right balance not only makes others feel important, but also makes you appear in control.   

The Trouble with Staring.  Be careful not to stare.  A tense face or fixed gaze is often perceived as threatening and can sometimes come across as peculiar or even abnormal.  Extending eye contact can also be misconstrued as an affront or a challenge of authority. To avoid staring, be sure to blink normally, and occasionally nod or shift your head during conversation. Monitoring your blinking and mimicking the facial expressions of the person speaking further helps to support appropriate eye contact.

Eye Contact in Social Situations.  Don’t be one of those “lookie loos” who is perpetually looking for someone better or more interesting to talk to. If you are unable to make eye contact, you come across as disinterested or bored and this is not an attractive quality.  When interacting with people, make direct eye contact and act as if they are the only person in the room. Give them your full attention and they will take notice. Good eye contact is crucial especially when making introductions. It gives the appearance that you are comfortable and present to the situation.  Social eye signals tend to stay in the area between the eyes and mouth.  This lets the other person know that a social atmosphere is developing.

Eye Contact for the Professional.  In business, it is particularly important to make eye contact when you are introduced to someone and when they are speaking to you. Frequently glancing away or refusing to make eye contact may be interpreted as weak, disinterested, or disrespectful.  To convey professionalism, keep your gaze in the upper middle region of the other person’s forehead focusing primarily in the upper face, through the eyes, brows and forehead.  

Eye Contact Overseas.  Eye contact differs depending upon the culture.  In the United States and most of Europe, making eye contact is welcome and considered appropriate.  It is interpreted as showing interest, paying attention and a sign of self-confidence.  This is significantly different from some other cultures where direct eye contact is perceived as aggressive, rude or a show of disrespect. In Asian cultures, for example, young children show their respect to elders by avoiding making direct eye contact, the same goes for employees who want to show deference to their employers.  These cultures do not view avoiding eye contact as rude or disinterested, but quite the opposite, as being polite. 

Eye Contact between the Sexes.  In certain cultures, and some religious sects, eye contact between men and women is considered highly inappropriate and is seen as threatening or flirtatious. In many Asian and Middle Eastern cultures, avoiding eye contact with a member of the opposite sex is seen as a show of respect.  This is quite different from our forward American culture which has no gender boundaries with regard to making direct eye contact. 

Perhaps Frankie Valli had a glimpse of the future when he sang the lyrics, “you’re just too good to be true, can’t take my eyes off of you.”  Sure he might have been singing the song about a special lady, but we can pretend that he was using it as a reminder for us to pay closer attention to our eye contact and how it affects others.  After all, don’t we all appreciate when someone looks us directly in the eye and treats us as if we are the only person in the room?  I know I do!  

Have any issues with eye contact? Are you good at it?  At parties do you suffer from the "lookie loo" syndrome? Share with us, we'd love to hear from you!