goodManners: Small Talk 4 tips to share with children – surving the social holiday season with a smile

The holidays are now upon us. Festive, happy, social gatherings with family and friends are already under way.

Well, let’s be honest – maybe not all gatherings are always happy and what we truly want to do with our time. Children tend to have similar feelings towards social events.

Have you ever talked to a child at a social event and received no eye contact, monosyllabic responses to all your questions such as, uh-huh, yeah, or a slight grunt?

I was recently at an event where I asked a glum looking 13-year old a simple question – “how are you?”

I received the following: no eye contact and a reply of “Fine, and even better when I can leave this boring party”.

That was probably the most extreme example that I have experienced. Clearly there was some room for improvement in his response.

Small children sometimes still lack some social graces. Pre-teen children and teenagers, however, should have the maturity to handle themselves with a certain amount of finesse in social situations. Teaching children over the age of nine how to put on their “game face” in situations they find less than desirable is an excellent life skill for them to possess.

It is helpful for children to learn early on that it is not socially acceptable to be rude to others just because they are not pleased or happy about a situation. This in no way implies that they should ever tolerate someone being blatantly rude to them, but if that’s not the case, the following suggestions may be helpful.

Be considerate of others

Being considerate of others also means exercising self-control. There are many reasons why your child needs to attend functions she may not find desirable such as, it will please someone else you care about, or it’s almost mandatory for a club, organization or family. Thinking about others needs above your own for a brief period of time is a sign of maturity.

Chit chat

After a certain age, simply being silent when being asked a question is not acceptable. Nor is the inability or lack of desire to maintain a conversation with anyone other than a peer. Yes – there are some topics your child may want to avoid, but there are also a few that are simple to converse about with just about anyone. For example, the weather and the environment, or décor of the room in which you are standing are very easy and neutral topics. A sincere compliment or an easy open-ended question is also a good conversation icebreaker.

Smile and be positive

Some of you may remember the song “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without A Smile”. I agree with that song title. There’s nothing nicer than being greeted or conversing with someone that has a warm, sincere smile and looks you in the eye. No one likes to talk to someone who is negative in their speech or actions. Teach your child to try to find the positive in situations.

Prepare and practice

Prepare your child for social situations ahead of time. This gives you and your child time to find a way to effectively cope, and strategize about how best to deal with the social event. Role-playing can be quite an effective learning tool, and is usually fun for children. Children mimic what they see and hear. Remember you are their role model. As always, praise your child when you see her behaving politely in a social situation you know she finds challenging.

Teaching your child to put on his “game face” and make the best of social events is a valuable skill he will repeat many, many times throughout his life.