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Mind Your Manners! Top 10 Tips for Helping Children Show Manners during the Holiday Season

boy_potatoes-199x300Joey, a seven year old boy with big brown eyes and a proven love for mashed potatoes did the unthinkable.  Sitting around the holiday table, Joey wanted to show his Aunt Theresa that he could be part of the “clean the plate club” just like his Great Uncle Lester.  With great conviction, he picked up his plate and licked it—sending his leftover turkey onto the floor, his unused gravy into his lap, and his mashed potatoes up his nose.  Then he sneezed…and no, he didn’t cover his mouth or nose.

Joey’s mother, Trish, told me during one of our coaching sessions, “Perhaps it would have seemed funnier if half my guests weren’t covered in remnants from Joey’s dinner…my mother-in-law included.”

Holiday time can be unpredictable. It can encourage parents to push the limits of their credit cards and children to push the buttons of their parents. The excitement of these special days coupled with “once-a-year” guests, competition for parental attention, anticipation of gifts, power shopping and elaborate meals can inspire children to do things that they might not try at any other time of the year.

How can you help to ensure that your child doesn’t do a repeat performance of Joey’s dinner disaster?

(1)  Expose them to role models with manners: It’s challenging to teach good manners if a key adult or older sibling in the house isn’t modeling them. Actions speak louder than words. Children must be shown as well as told what you would like to see with regard to manners. Older “cool” friends or siblings who have great manners can be a particularly powerful influence. If your children see others showing great manners, your children will learn to do the same.

(2)  Set the expectations: Talk to your children about how you would like them to act in certain situations before they arise. Role-play these ideas.  What would you like them to say when someone gives them a present (even if they don’t like it)?  How should they behave at the holiday table?  Give them the step by step and allow them to help you generate ideas.

(3)  Start practicing at home: Going to someone else’s house for the holiday? Manners begin at home.  If you want your child to use manners out in public or in someone else’s house, they must be reinforced and used in your home.  Practice using a napkin, asking someone to pass the food, saying thank-you to the host, and saying goodbye to the guests.

(4)  Be consistent: Children retain what you repeat.  “Please” and “thank-you” will only become habits if you teach your children to say it every time it’s appropriate.  This does not mean you should nag.  Remind your children without making a big deal of it.

(5)  Use books and posters to show examples: If you have worked with me, you know that I like to compile children’s books by category such as manners, discipline, courage, and other character education words.  The use of books and posters can be great visual ways to start a conversation about manners during holiday time as well as throughout the year.

(6)  Play the “what if” game: Provide scenarios and questions and allow the whole family to discuss manners in this interactive way.  I like to provide about 18-20 questions for each of my clients to use so that each person in the family can answer several questions.  When you do this as a family, it makes it fun as well as educational.

(7)  Play the “messy manners” game: Another fun game I encourage people to play is the “messy manners” game.  During this game you can brainstorm all the rude manners one might exhibit at the holiday table.  You can even role play these “messy manners.”  Everyone gets a good laugh but most importantly, it provides a springboard for the questions, “Why shouldn’t we do that?” and “What should we do instead?”

(8)  Review the Powerful Greeting: Any child who attends a Powerful Words Member School or has worked with me during a presentation at a school knows about the “Powerful Greeting.”  This greeting is really quite simple.  First, teach the child how to shake an adult’s hand.  Then, teach him how to look at someone in the eye.  Finally, teach him to say, “hello, my name is ____, it’s nice to meet you,” or “Hello, it’s nice to see you again, thanks for having us.”  Everyone is always very impressed and the praise the child receives from others always makes the child feel really good!

(9)  Teach the Child How to Write Thank-You Notes: In the age of email, we all know how simple it is to send a quick note.  However, we also have to admit that getting thank-you card in the mail is better.  Teach your child how to write a thank-you card if he has received a nice gift for the holidays.  Young children can draw a picture and sign their name to the card.  You can even take a picture of that child with the gift and send that along as well.  It doesn’t need to be perfect or complex; it simply shows children the importance of saying thank-you.

(10) Praise it if you like it: When you compliment children on good behavior, they’ll want to do the same thing again.  Be specific with your praise.  What did you like?  “I like the way you helped clear off the table without anyone asking.  That really put a smile on my face and shows that you have very nice manners.”  Children will be looking to do a repeat performance and find other ways to make you proud.

Good luck with your holiday plans.  Remember to try and relax through the hustle and bustle of it all.  These tips are sure to prepare you for a great day. And if the mashed potatoes still end up flying in the face of your mother-in-law during holiday dinner, don’t forget, there’s always next year.

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No Fat Talk! 10 Tips for a Fat-Talk Free Thanksgiving

untitledThanksgiving is my family’s favorite holiday. Is it one of yours too? There’s something so powerful about a holiday that everyone celebrates in America because it is part of American culture, not religion.  But you know what can really ruin a good holiday meal? Fat Talk.

Hold the Fat Talk! 10 Tips for a Fat (Talk) Free Holiday Dinner

A collaborative body image article by Dr. Robyn Silverman & Dr. Lynne Kenney

With Thanksgiving on Thursday and many of the major holidays right around the corner, expectations run high. The grand dinner, the family gathering and…who’s done what since the last get together. You know what I mean. Who’s dating and who’s been dumped. Whose daughter was accepted early to the best program and who is licking her wounds?

And of course, who’s gained weight.

The comparisons slip off the tongue as easily as the marshmallows are stolen off the sweet potato casserole. It easily, seamlessly, and expectantly becomes part of the dinner conversation. Between bites, stares of “should you be eating that” meld with apologies for eating too much and promises to be “good” at dessert time. Each plate is then served with a hefty heaping of shame, blame, and naming names of those relatives or celebrities who are or are not adhering to the narrow definition of what is considered the standard of beauty these days. Is this really what Holiday Dinners are supposed to be about?

Fat-Talk-Free Holiday Tips

It’s time to take control of our holidays instead of allowing Fat Talk into the driver’s seat. Dr. Robyn Silverman and Dr. Lynne Kenney give you the tips to make your Holiday a positive experience where everyone involved can come away feeling good, strong, powerful, and supported.

Dr. Robyn Says…

(1) Declare the Holiday Table a Fat Talk Free Zone: In Good Girls Don’t Get Fat, I talk about establishing a Fat Talk Free Zone in order to take charge of what kind of “talk” you surround yourself with on a daily basis. Holidays, of course, are special occasions and times when we see people who aren’t in our every lives. While it may take guts, ask your guests (YES, your mother-in-law too!) to join you in making this holiday a positive one where you build people up rather than tear them (including yourself!) down. Hang it right on the door or by the Holiday Table; “You are now entering the Fat Talk Free Zone!”

(2) Don’t forget what Holiday Family Dinners are really all about:When you think of the true meaning of your holiday get togethers, they’re really about love, family, friends, and gratitude, right? I mean, what happened to the “Thanks” part of Thanksgiving? If we can focus on what we have—our strengths, our assets, and our support system—instead of what we lack, our Holiday dinners will surely be more enjoyable…and something to fondly look forward to and remember.

(3) Remember what Your Mama told you (if you can’t say something nice…): Whether it’s about yourself or someone else, snarky, rude comments hurt. They impact our minds and our moods and poison the dinner environment. And let’s not forget that such toxicity isn’t contained to that day. We remember those negative messages for years to come. Girls internalize it.  Boys learn that this is a practice that girls do AND that girls should indeed hold them to such a narrow standard. Frankly, it stinks. So let’s change the dialogue we say to others and to ourselves.

(4) Start a new tradition: Some go around the table and say what they’re grateful for while others retell old family stories. In the spirit of Fat Talk Free Holidays, why not start a tradition of celebrating our strengths? Ask everyone to say 1-3 things that they feel are assets they possess. You can also go back around the table and flip it—what are 1-3 assets you admire about someone else at the table? This is not about competition or comparison but rather, about seeing people for their strengths rather than their deficits.

(5) Nip it in the bud: If someone starts to “fat talk,” pull them aside and remind them kindly about your Fat-Talk-Free Holiday plan. While some adults may be able to filter out opinions about fat, calories, and weight, children and teens are very impressionable. Your silence, in this case, can be seen as an endorsement of the behavior and what the guest is saying. Speak up so that everyone can get back to focusing on enjoying family, food, friends, and some fat-talk free time.

Dr. Lynne says…

(1) Think first, speak second. The messages you send your girls really matter. They listen closely and watch even closer. Are you commenting on your need to diet? Do you identify some foods as “good” and others as “bad.” At the dinner table recently I heard a mom say, “Eat your dinner so we ca get good stuff, the dessert.” Desert can indeed be yummy, but it’s not the good stuff. Stop labeling foods, eat a touch of it all without comments and judgment. Fat-Talk-Free is the way to be!

(2) Lift one another up. Family meals are not the time for devaluation and gossip. No need to criticize those who are not present or take advantage of the audience to make yourself feel better by putting others down. Turn conversation into opportunities to share experiences, learn what your family members have been up to and celebrate one another’s passions.

(3) Offer to share the space. Do you get anxious each holiday knowing that your mother or mother-in-law is going to steal the limelight with her extravagant meal offerings, only to hear that you forgot to add the garlic to the mashed potatoes? Call ahead of time and offer to host an evening in your own home so that you can all have an opportunity to throw a family gathering the way you like it. Perhaps Thanksgiving is always at one home, ask to switch it up. Have dinner Wednesday evening at your own home and invite everyone you love. Celebrate everyone’s passion for entertaining by telling family members they can bring a favorite dish. Just because Thanksgiving has always been one way doesn’t mean this year it has to be the same old status quo.

(4) Add an activity to the holiday weekend. Family activities like sports, games and crafts bring each other joy. Consider a family game of football, a walk in the forest, or a game of Bananagrams. You can find a list of fun family activities for your fridge in The Family Coach Method. Rebecca Cohen offers great tips on planting and playing outdoors. Download her family activity list and put some family fun in your holiday.

(5) Do something nice for others. There is no better way to teach your children to give back than to offer to make crafts with elders at a local senior center, serve a meal at the local food pantry or clean out your closet and give away what you don’t need. Enjoying a family meal is only one aspect of the holiday experience.

Conclusion

This holiday season is one you get to design. So move away from old habits and introduce new ones with some thoughtful planning and preparation. You may be surprised by how others willingly join in.

Are you ready to set the stage?  Are you ready to speak up?  We all must be accountable for stopping fat-talk at our holiday tables. Do it for yourself. Do it for the other girls and women at the table.  Do it to reinforce the message to boys and men that beautiful women come in all different shapes and sizes.  This Thanksgiving, let’s toast to a very happy, healthy, fat-talk free holiday! People will thank you for it…

Note: Dr. Robyn Silverman’s book is Good Girls Don’t Get Fat: How Weight Obsession is Messing Up Our Girls & How We Can Help Them Thrive Despite It.