Whenever I send my 7-year-old to a friend's house, I hold my breath a bit. Will she remember that she can't just open the refrigerator and help herself? What if she makes a colossal mess? And please, I plead silently, don't let her burp in front of that nice family.
Sending our kids out into the world—and into other people's homes—can be a tricky proposition. If they're reasonably well behaved, it makes us, their parents, look good. But if they boss their buddy around and terrorize the cat...
Raising kids who don't act like cave-children in public is all about encouraging respect. It's not about teaching them to be annoyingly, precociously polite, sitting with folded hands at a party and inquiring after another mom's health. It is about making sure our kids treat other people—and their things—nicely, so that other moms will want them in their houses again. "Kids who behave at friends' houses have a better chance of becoming kids who behave with their teachers and, eventually, adults who get on well with their friends, family, and bosses," says Jodi R.R. Smith, a mom and etiquette consultant in Boston. "The bottom line: People with good social skills tend to get further in life. That's reality." The lessons are simple...
Ages 5 to 6: RESPECT 101
At this age, your child will probably go to playdates and parties without you (hooray!). And it's often the parents—not the kids—who choose who'll get invited back, so focus some of your child's skills on pleasing them. Key reminders:
"Mrs. So-and-So is in charge."
Don't assume your kid knows this. You might even say, in front of the other parent, "Remember that Joe's mom is the boss. I'm sure she'll tell you if their family has any special rules."
"Use your inside voice—and feet."
No matter how laid-back the other parent seems, let's be real: 6-year-olds running through the house screaming? No, thanks. Besides, do you really want to cough up bucks for the other family's china if it gets broken in a game of tag?
Melissa Leonard of Harrison, NY, feels the easiest way to teach her two kids about indoor behavior (and maintain her sanity) is to keep the same rules at her own house, namely: Walk and use a quieter voice inside. If that isn't your style or your kid is extra active, let him burn off some energy at a park right before playdates or parties.
"Remember sharing? Now's the time."
Sounds basic, but kids really like friends who take turns choosing games and willingly switch off with the basketball. You can prep your kid to be a better sharer by playing board games where you have to take turns, or letting sibs trade off choosing a family movie. When your child goes on a playdate, suggest she bring a toy that she's willing to share. That'll get her thinking about taking turns, though a reminder is smart.
"Pick up three things before you leave."
When I tell my daughters to help clean up at the end of a playdate, the other mom invariably insists, "Don't bother!" But when I polled moms for this article, the number one guest skill they mentioned was: "Please encourage your child to pick up at least a few toys before he leaves, even if I say it's no big deal." Translation: Other moms are just being polite.
"Say the magic words."
Don't underestimate the value of "please" and "thank you." They make every kid's request sound a bit nicer. I love it when my nephew, Nicholas, adds "Please and thank you, Aunt Teri" to everything he requests, just to cover his bases.