6 Tips for Parents on How to Teach Etiquette to Kids: Meeting and Greeting

From a cross-cultural perspective common greetings can vary immensely! Acceptable greetings range from a simple wave of the hand, a light kiss on the cheek to kisses on each cheek, bowing, curtsying (still practiced at many primary schools in the UK), hugging, even rubbing noses, and, believe it or not, sticking tongues out at one another.

Within our own culture, handshaking seems to be the most popular. Knowing how to greet others appears pretty straight-forward yet a successful greeting requires a set of skills that can either engage or immediately put someone off. And it’s not just the shy or inexperienced person who shows difficulty in greeting others.

We have all experienced meeting someone who avoids eye contact, doesn’t smile, gives you a ‘wet fish’ handshake and lets out a little more than a mumble. This sense of awkwardness leaves both parties struggling for a positive outcome. In the same way, we’ve probably all experienced someone who gives you a 'terminator' handshake (wishing you had removed your rings), who stands uncomfortably close or asks too many personal questions that leave you standing aghast. There is also an art to finishing a conversation in a polite manner whether it's because you feel that the conversation is coming to a close or because the person is becoming a little too nosy or annoying.

These can be awkward skills for children and practicing how to initiate improved social communication will increase the quality of your child’s social thinking, and strengthen their greeting and exiting skills.

Tip #1 - Show your children by example.

Think about how you normally greet and say goodbye to others. What are you showing your children? Learning usually take place in the home, through imitation. 
Children learn by observing others. If you model appropriate behavior, your child will follow suit. Parents may seem surprised to see their own lapses in manners show up in their children. If you greet and say goodbye warmly to others, then they will follow you by example. Do not underestimate the influence you will have on them long-term.

Tip #2 - Encourage them to try.

It is always a good idea to introduce your children to new acquaintances. Talk to your children about how important it is to greet in a warm and friendly mannerly. That means smiling, looking the other person in the eye and standing with good posture. Mention that as we look and smile the other person knows we wish to be friendly. Standing with good posture means that we are alert and respectful to those around us. If they feel shy about greeting people let them know that many of us, children and adults, feel exactly the same way.

Tip #3 - Practice practice practice!

Giving your children a chance to practice their manners can help alleviate the anxiety they often feel around strangers. And the safest place to sharpen your children's greeting and goodbye skills is at home with family members. You will see their confidence growing as they use them wherever they go - school, ballet, karate, scouts, yoga, playdates etc. Practicing allows your children to reshape all sorts of behaviours. You can also encourage them to continue using these skills by creating a chart and placing a sticker or tick on it, and rewarding them for applying what they have learned to their every day living. Continue until these skills become second nature.

"We are what we repeatedly do, Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit." - Aristotle

Tip #4 - Practice shaking hands

Children always seem to be fascinated by the story around the history of the handshake. Sharing these stories with your children can raise the importance of getting the handshake right. During the Middle Ages, only men carried swords. If two men met and their intentions were bad, they would reach for their weapons with their right hand to stab each other.

If, however, they came in peace and they wanted to get to know each other, instead of reaching for a weapon, they would offer an empty and open right hand, palm facing upwards.

Practice shaking hands as often as possible. Make sure that there is web-to-web contact and that they offer a firm handshake - the same pressure they would give to squeeze a tube of toothpaste.

Tip #5 - Rehearse with them just before your visit

If you are visiting someone that day, it is helpful to discuss who will be there, what is likely to happen and what they should say as they enter. You might tell your child, ’Grandma’s having her friend over today, her name is Mrs Smith. When you see her say hello and if they say hello first, make sure you say hello back to them and show them that lovely smile of yours! What else do we have to remember when we greet someone?' Make sure they remember that shaking hands is just as important. Also remind them that when it is time to leave it is important to say goodbye as well. 

Tip #6 - Use a secret signal to prompt your children

A secret signal 
can be a useful way to prompt your children to remember the steps to greet and say goodbye. May it simple for them. You might lightly squeeze their hand or put your hand on their head as a prompt that means, ‘remember to greet or say goodbye to this person’. Always commend your children when they respond by using their skills. Praise always goes a long way in shaping children's behaviour.

Encourage your children to use ALL of the meeting, greeting and exiting skills:

E - eye contact

S - smile

S - say hello or goodbye

S - shake hands

But even if your child learns just one of these skills today, the most important would be eye contact. Even if your child shakes hands and says hello correctly, and smiles at the ground, without eye contact he really hasn't made a connection. Click Here for more information.

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