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Friday, December 3, 2010

Holidays; a great time to teach good manners to your kids

Yes, manners CAN mean the difference between a job offer and a rejection letter.  Especially as our children venture out into the world as new graduates.  Employers have a hard time differentiating between the hundreds of 20 somethings they see and will remember the young man or woman who says "thank you" when few others offer this simple courtesy.

So, as the year end approaches there is an opportunity for we parents to set examples and teach our children some manners.  The holidays in particular offer a chance for our kids to interact with many people they may not see on a regular basis the rest of the year.  Relatives travel to see nieces and nephews and grandparents come out of retirement to spoil our kids with candy and presents.  It is also common for neighbors to pop in with a tray of cookies or the Salvation Army volunteers to show up asking for a donation.  A job interview for our children is going to be a stressful meeting with someone they don't know and wish to impress.  Every time they meet someone this December there is a chance for them to practice.

Here are a few situations where our children can practice as well as the specific manners that will be important and possibly critical to them in the future when it is the Head of Marketing at Coca Cola they are trying to impress rather than Grandma!

Answering the door:
This is a simple action that most of us probably have not given much thought.  However, for a 6 year old it can be a challenge and sometimes even scary.  Let's assume that we have already taught our kids not to open the door to strangers.  Now, with us hovering protectively in the background, your son calls out "Yes, who is it?"  Your neighbor from down the street answers and your son pulls open the door and with a smile (very important!) says, "Hello Mrs. Henderson, it is nice to see you."  That's it! If our kids can pull that off at 6 they are way ahead of the pack.  New grad recruiters constantly complain about applicants who do not smile or seem listless and uninterested.  If your son or daughter instead leaves the door closed and calls to Mom before rushing back to his video game then catch him and bring him with you to the door.  Keep things light and casual, this is not a punishment.  As a parent this is the chance to set an example.  Put on that smile and cheerfully open the door saying the exact same phrase you want your child to remember, "Hello Mrs. Henderson, it is nice to see you."  Kids are mimics and watch EVERYTHING we do as parents.  Over the course of the next couple weeks you may start to see your daughter approaching the door in a stunning imitation of you.

Eating dinner:
Most new graduate interviews do not occur over a meal.  However, the dinner table, especially a holiday one with guests, is one of those interesting places where a whole host of manners come into play, all of which will help in a job interview.  Such as:

  1. Sit up straight and sit still - Chances are your children are like mine and they are moving constantly. The dinner table is one of the few places you can teach them about posture and control.  Consider the image it portrays in a job interview when your daughter is slouching in her chair swinging her leg back and forth.  This is not something to teach your kids the day before the interview.  Start now and they will do it naturally and therefore be able to focus more on the questions being asked.  It is easiest to teach this particular skill if you are sitting next to your child.  A nudge is sometimes all it takes to remind them and will not attract undo attention from around the table.  Getting into the habit of putting their napkin on their lap when they sit down at the table can also help to remind our kids to sit straight.  It is not easy to keep the napkin in place when bouncing around in the chair!
  2. Eye contact - Our kids will be declined for a job if they cannot answer a question without looking at the person they are speaking to.  A holiday dinner table will certainly give your daughter a chance to practice.  Grandpa will want to know how she is doing in school and a "gentle" reminder to, "Look at Grandpa when you answer" should carry over to the next person who asks her a question.  I think it is important to realize that we are teaching our kids something that will be important to them for the rest of their lives.  They are not likely to get it or remember it the first time.  Kids need frequent reminders and I think we can do it gently.  We just have to be willing to go over it with them a hundred times!  Fortunately, starting now when they are young gives us and them time.
  3. Don't interrupt/listen - Did you know that new grads in job interviews actually interrupt their interviewers?  Amazing but it happens.  Again, gentle reminders at the dinner table are a good way of reinforcing the habit of listening and waiting for a chance to say what you want to say.  It is also critical that we as parents set the same example.
  4. Use "please" and "thank you" - This last one is truly a habit.  With everything that goes on over a meal, these words can be used countless times.  "Please pass the butter" followed by a cheerful "Thank you" is all it takes.  

Thank you notes:
In most cultures there is some practice of gift giving at this time of year.  It can be a toy or money or food but the idea is the same.  Someone who cares about our child has given them something to show how much they love them.  Sit your son down and with a list of what they received and who they received it from and start writing thank you notes.  The length and detail will depend on the age of your child.  Try to encourage them to communicate their feelings, not just "Thank you for the money".  I will often bring up interview scenarios and in this case consider 2 candidates applying for the same job.  Both do well in the interview but your son writes a nice thank you letter afterwards and mails it to the interviewer expressing his appreciation for the time and his enthusiasm for the job.

Who would you hire?

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