Just talking money, religion and politics with the hosts of KC Live this morning;) Really enjoyed answering tough etiquette dilemmas from Michelle Davidson and Joel Nichols! What do you do when a political conversation becomes awkward? How do you handle guests who are always late? What about that co-worker who frequently shares a little too much? Great questions this morning! Thank you!
I think we can all agree there is no shortage of discussion this election year, no matter what side of the aisle you sit. Even if you’re not following the daily news updates, you’re probably watching humorous political clips your friends sent you from Jimmy Fallon or Saturday Night Live. There’s something new to discuss every day, and it’s only going to increase through November.
This is the beauty of our great American political system and the freedom of opinion it affords us. Not to mention, it’s just so much darn fun to discuss! And we should! But we must have the ability to have a difference of opinion, discuss with civility and respect, and still part in good company. As Thomas Jefferson said, “I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend.”
With that in mind, here are a few tips to consider when talking politics:
· “Enter these conversations prepared to listen.” – Daniel Post Senning
If you listen to the “Awesome Etiquette” podcast by The Emily Post Institute on NPR radio (and if you don’t, I think you’d love it), Lizzie Post and Daniel Post Senning recently discussed this controversial topic. I love what they said about being prepared to just be a listener too. Your opinions to the conversation are valuable and valid, but know that conversely you need to be aware of how much of the conversation you are taking up. Have a true conversation, which means ensuring it is two-sided by taking time to just listen. It shows such respect and consideration when you give others room and time to get their point across. When you grant that respect to the others in the discussion, you may be surprised how responsive and respectful they are, in turn, when you are speaking.
· Politics at the Table
Among friends, it can be almost too much to resist talking about. I am guilty of this. However, the best rule of thumb etiquette-wise is just to avoid discussing these topics around the dinner table. This is, by far, the safest approach and least possible scenario to accidentally (or purposefully) offend. You don’t want someone feeling uncomfortable and possibly even trapped because good manners prevent them from leaving the dinner table. If you choose to engage in a conversation of this nature, make sure you know your audience around the table and keep your comments within the bounds of consideration and respect for others. Since most of us offend others completely unintentionally, it’s best just to follow the rule of thumb. This doesn’t make you boring. It makes you polite.
· Pause for thought, and take a breath before you respond
This is especially true if someone has just said something that might be contrary to your viewpoint or upsetting to you. You don’t need to respond immediately, or even at all if you feel it can’t be done with grace. Take a moment to pause, gather your thoughts, and take the conversation in a positive direction. Or, change the conversation topic altogether.
· Manage your reaction – be careful of your tone
If the conversation is taking a turn from sharing viewpoints to making you feel on the defensive, remember the goal of the conversation is an exchange of opinions in a civil manner. If you feel yourself growing upset or getting louder with your words, it’s time to change the conversation. It’s important to maintain mutual respect, and it’s hard to do that if either party takes a tone that might be construed as snarky or condescending. If you’re not quite sure how to respond, you can use phrases such as, “That’s very insightful, thanks sharing your viewpoints with me.” “Isn’t it great that we can discuss like this, even though we might somewhat differ.” Or, “Isn’t it great that we don’t have to agree, but can still discuss freely like this in our country? Thanks for sharing your thoughts with me.”
· Social media posting
A final note on political conversations – it can very easily feel more comfortable and less direct to post a political opinion on your social media site of choice. But, it’s incredibly important to remember you are still having a conversation. In fact, you’re creating a very loud conversation, even if it’s not one you are having face-to-face. Remember that your online comments can be carried far and wide to a large audience, and so can the reactions to it. Not to mention that anything posted online can live forever. Anything you would not be willing to say in a civil face-to-face discussion, should not be posted.
Alright, before we get into the ever impassioned topic of the dinner party, please indulge me in a short qualifier of what I mean when I refer to a “dinner party.” Not every get together with friends or family is a dinner party, thank goodness. The dinner party isn’t usually your last minute pizza/take out casual get-together with friends, backyard BBQ, or Sunday evening lazy supper with your dearest friends. And in my world, a dinner party isn’t when my 3 boys (ages 6 and under) are in attendance.:) Don’t get me wrong, I ADORE casual get-togethers with my friends and all of our children. I love the spontaneous last minute porch or backyard dinners on a Friday night where it’s a little hectic, but we don’t care, and we just talk and laugh and watch our children run around the backyard until the fireflies come out. We even (gasp!) use paper napkins sometimes. Those are special times. Those are where the memories are made.
But a dinner party is something different. It often means planning a date in advance, specifically putting together a complementary group of people, getting baby sitters lined up, and having a meal plan. For those of us with young children, it’s a chance to catch up without the interruptions, and to even dress up a little if we want. It’s an adult night out, and it’s special in its own way because of the gracious effort and thought that the host puts into it. She wants you to come, relax, enjoy the food and linger awhile. And if you’re lucky enough to walk home from your host’s house afterward, even better.
Okay now that we’re on the same page, let’s get to the good stuff.:)
The Hostess with the Mostess
I know, I know, you already are the perfect dinner party guest. You show up with the host’s favorite bottle of wine (…under $25 of course, there are many out there). You notice and compliment those new hand towels in the powder bath, and you know just the right moments during dinner to pull out hilarious anecdotes about your in-laws.
But the reality is, we will all experience as many different types of dinner guests as there are china patterns. So, the real skill is knowing how to manage them all with grace (and sanity) on your end, while simultaneously ensuring EVERY guest feels special and counted…even those tough to handle ones.
Here are a few thoughts to help your next dinner party come off with ease, graciousness and sincerity – just like you:
· You are an unshakeable pro – don’t forget it!
The best hosts do not flinch, no matter the guest request or behavior. Your role as the host is to make everyone feel comfortable and valued. You could have invited anyone, but you chose this person. Don’t let anyone leave your home feeling like they were a hassle, burden or second to the rest. You, my dear, are a gracious host. Nothing can shake you!
· Leave the dishes & enjoy the moment
Nothing kills a dinner party mood quicker than a host who starts loading the dishwasher while her guests are still there. Stack the dirty dishes next to the sink, open another bottle of wine, and sit down in the beautiful candle light of the table. The food was wonderful to be sure, but this is everyone’s favorite part of the dinner party, that last glass or two, and conversation. Speaking of…
· Conversation is not a lost art in your home
You’ve probably been rushing around serving your guests and refilling drinks during dinner, now sit and truly talk to them. Find out a bit more about what’s going on in their lives. After all, some of you may have moved mountains to coordinate sitters on the same night. Take advantage of the uninterrupted conversation time and ask your guests questions. Want to get a quiet guest talking? Just ask them about their last/next trip, what’s going on at work (or at home with the kids), or everyone’s favorite topic, “what are you watching on Netflix these days?” Everyone, EVERYONE, has a show they are watching, or just finished, and it always seems to bring out conversation all around the table.
Side Note: It goes without saying, do your best to leave the TV in the other room. This can be tough to swallow for some during Royals baseball season when they are on so frequently. Remember your first rule is to be a gracious host, find a way to accommodate the camaraderie of rooting for the home team while not compromising the conversation at your table. Usually a muted television in another room for quick score checks can do the trick. And probably don’t schedule dinner parties during the playoffs.:)
· Thank your Guests!
You spent your time and money on this dinner party because you wanted to. But your guests had a choice, and they chose to come to your home over other social gatherings, or at minimum, a rare precious quiet evening at home. Make sure you thank them on the way out the door for spending the evening with you and adding to the dinner atmosphere that made the party. It’s not really about the linens you used or the scrumptious cheese board you set out, even though it was all just lovely. It’s about the gift of your time that you all gave to one another. Now that is the true essence of etiquette.
AND NOW....The Dinner Party Guest - How to Get Invited Back!
· Bring a Host gift
No one expects this, but everyone loves it. It’s completely unnecessary, and completely thoughtful. It’s a nice way to say “thank you for having me” when you walk in the door. And it absolutely need not be anything big – flowers from your backyard in a mason jar would delight any host. A bottle of wine or prosecco is always a nice touch too. I have oodles of host gift ideas if you want, but the point isn’t about the actual gift, it’s about the consideration toward the host.
· Eat what is served, or eat around it
If you want to select your meal, I’d suggest a restaurant instead. I say that slightly joking, but you get the point. The dinner party is much more about the people than the actual meal. Although many of us have had our best meals at other people’s homes. Your host carefully planned the meal, and so it’s always most nice to eat what is served, or eat around it if it’s not something you prefer. You can do that discreetly. This is what we teach our children, after all. The exception to this rule is in the case of a food allergy. If you have a food allergy, do be sure to let your host know in advance. I promise she wants to ensure your safety and comfort above any desired meal plan.
We had a dinner party not too long ago where we had a shrimp boil…it makes me hungry just thinking about it. We love shrimp boils, and we have friends who do wonderful ones too. Anyway, we had 10 people over and either I didn’t realize it or forgot, but one of our guests did not like seafood of any kind. I had no idea the entire evening. It wasn’t until later when someone told me. She so discreetly just ate what she could and didn’t say a word, even with a mound of seafood on the table in front of her.
· Take the cue from your host
In general, the gracious dinner guest always waits for the host before she begins eating. This is true of almost any eating situation, the same way you wait for mom to sit down before you dig in. But, it’s really most important to take the cues from your host. If your host is plating and serving each guest individually, she may want you to go ahead and start right then while it’s hot. She is the one who planned the meal and it’s timing, which is no easy feat. So, if it’s hot and ready and she wants you to enjoy it right then, then do it.:)
My husband is like that as a host. He loves to cook, and he loves the meal right when it comes out of the pan or oven, and he wants everyone to enjoy in it right then too. For him it’s almost a little frustrating if there is too much time between when his carefully timed meal is ready, and when people actually eat. So the rule is, take your cues from the host.
· Be remembered for your wit, not how long you stayed
This is self-explanatory. Take those cues from your host. Most gracious hosts will never outright tell you it’s time to go. But they will give you subtle clues, like mentioning they have an early morning tomorrow, not refilling wine as quickly (or at all), or beginning to sort dishes in the kitchen.
· Say “Thank you” Again
I know you said “thank you” when you were walking out the door, but it’s always extra nice and polite to thank the host once you’ve arrived home, or at a decent hour the next morning. A simple message telling the host your favorite moment or giving a thoughtful detail is always nice. “I don’t know how you made that beef tenderloin so delicious, but I know I can’t live without the recipe!” You can do it via text or email, and should for timeliness sake. If you follow up with a hand-written note, even better.
Had lots of fun this morning on KC Live TV with Michelle Davidson and Joel Nichols! I think I practiced this table setting a dozen times last night at home:) Link below:
We just returned from a vacation with our children that totaled almost 18 hours in airports or airplanes from start to finish. I’m not complaining because there was a beach in between, but this topic is fresh in my mind from our travels.
We’re in that in between spot with our children where it’s easy and hard all at the same time. Our oldest is easy and very content to read or watch movies the entire time. Our middle one doesn’t have the attention span (he’s just now 4), and so he requires more frequent activity changes. The baby is only content to be moving, crawling or squirming at all times. Unless he is sleeping, which usually happens during takeoff. In which case my husband and I high five each other.
In other words, we are a lot of work when traveling. Because of that, I’m also really cognizant of how we are affecting the travel experience of others. Are we being too loud? Are the children controlling their physical actions i.e. are they having a Star Wars reenactment in the middle of the boarding line? Is someone having a meltdown because the security line is long?
As we all know, our children can be unpredictable despite what we’ve taught them, so the best we can do is try and be prepared to make life easier on us and other passengers. Here are a few things to hopefully help your next journey and if you have any tips or tricks, I’d love to hear them too!
Pack a Bag
Better yet, let your child help pack a bag or backpack. This is their carry-on. I prefer backpacks for my kids because it leaves their hands free and they are less likely to accidentally leave it behind. They might fill it with robots, American Girl dolls, Legos, books, an iPad, etc. Make it light enough so they can carry it. It is their responsibility, even if you have to help. It helps them learn that mom and dad can’t carry everything for them, which shows consideration and respect. And don’t underestimate the value of packing snacks and gum.
Stretch their Legs
I can’t take full credit for this one. I read it in an article once and have been putting it to use ever since. In between flights at the airport, or before we board, we don’t sit very much, we use that time to get the wiggles out. Take a walk down the concourse, let them look at knick-knacks in stores, go down the moving walkway a few times (being mindful of others of course). That way when they get on the plane in their seat, they are hopefully a little more ready to sit still and do an activity.
There are a lot of opportunities for children to say “hello”, “please” and “thank you” boarding and during a flight. If you feel comfortable, have your children give the attendant their ticket as they are getting on and say “hello” and “thank you” to them. They will feel a little sense of responsibility for their ticket that gets them on the plane, and it’s another opportunity to interact with adults. Just as important, it’s nice to say “hello” to the flight attendants as they get on the plane. And, if the cockpit is open, say “hello” to the pilots too. You just never know when the captain will invite your child in to look at the gear just because they stopped to say “hello”. My children are so thrilled when this happens.
Along the same lines, try having your children order their own drinks (that you approve) from the flight attendant politely and say “thank you” when it arrives. This helps teach them the value of consideration and respect for the work the flight attendants are doing for them and others on the plane.
On the Plane
There are a few small details of behavior that make a world of difference to other passengers on an airplane. These can sometimes be the hardest to manage, but I find most passengers are sympathetic to the plight of parents traveling with children, especially if you are being mindful. Here they are in no specific order:
· Headphones on! Be sure to watch the volume of your child’s voice as they often can’t tell how loud they are talking, or singing, with headphones on.
· Keep their feet off the back of the seat in front of them – at all times. I think I repeat this to my children a thousand times every flight.
· Tray tables should probably just remain up as a courtesy to other passengers unless your child is aware and knows not to put it up and down several times.
· Recline seats only in the smallest of circumstances. If there is no one behind your child, then it is okay. Or, if you’re on a very long international flight. But on a domestic flight, it’s typically quite an inconvenience to the person sitting behind you or your child. The key here is to observe the rule of doing what’s most considerate for those around you.
· Watch pulling on the seats in front of you. My least favorite part of a flight is waiting for our turn to disembark the plane once we’ve landed. I know it’s a matter of mere minutes, but with antsy children it can seem like a lifetime. This is when they are standing up in their places and sometimes accidentally pulling on the seat in front of them. Some people don’t mind, but some people definitely do, trust me on this one. That’s a story for another time. But I’m very mindful of it and try and be considerate of that person in front of my child. This is a great time to play I Spy, ask some silly trivia questions (what’s the fastest animal on earth?), or even pull out a snack or piece of gum to help keep them preoccupied while waiting their turn to get off the plane.
Leaving the Plane
Don’t forget to set the example and say “thank you” to all the flight attendants and pilots (if you see them) as you pass on your way off the plane. It’s always nice for your children to be sure and say “thank you” on their way out too.
Lastly, have fun on the trip! Our children will grow up and these moments will become memories. So enjoy them and the journey! Oh, and book a babysitter for the night after your return, you’ve earned it:)
This topic comes up all the time! Tell me you haven’t discussed this with your friends. When I was talking to my friends about developing different children’s etiquette classes, I heard this idea more than once. We talk about “restaurant training” with a little bit of a wink. It’s that goal we have for our children, but I think most of us know that the unpredictable 4-year-old can give you a run for your money, no matter how many times you’ve taught him how to behave.
Because the truth is there are many times when eating out at a restaurant with children is neither easy nor relaxing. So many factors come into play. Did they nap today? Who took whose favorite Lego ship in the car? Who spent all afternoon at a play-date and is now completely exhausted and grumpy? Who doesn’t like the food smells coming from the table next to yours? I could go on and on. Point is, we’ve all had highs and lows. I’ve come away from a 2-hour dinner so exceptionally proud of mine, and I’ve also left a 25-minute dinner with my kids in complete meltdowns so exhausting that I bee-lined straight for a glass of wine. How many times can they drop the crayons under the table?! Why do they always need to go to the bathroom when the food arrives? And why do they randomly wander out of their seats for no reason? (If you’re shaking your head puzzled at any of this because it doesn’t happen to you, you probably have girls;)
But here’s the deal, hang in there and KEEP AT IT! You are teaching your child valuable life skills that will benefit them now, on their first date, and at their first job. With repetition and reminding, it will sink in, and your child will stun you into total glee by placing his napkin in his lap first thing, using the right utensil at the right time and ordering so politely from the waiter you almost tear up. And yes, even your 4-year-old can do all of that.
So with that said, “restaurant training” really begins at home…
· Have Dinner Together!
We have to start here, right? Having dinner together at home around the table presents those flexible teaching moments. Using family dinners at home as teachable opportunities is just smart, and helps set up your children to understand what kind of expectations you have around a dinner table, no matter where that dinner table may be. I’ll talk more about how and what to teach in another blog, or you can always email me to set up a lesson, I love talking table manners. And you’d be surprised how much your child enjoys it too! Children want to know expectations and do a great job, they want to please you, and they don’t want to feel confused or embarrassed.
Also, besides the impact it has on your child’s ability to successfully manage a dinner out and about or even at grandmother’s house, there have been numerous studies on the benefits of having a family meal together. Studies showing everything from performing better academically in school to staying out of trouble outside of school. We talk about giving our children the gift of good manners, because it really is a gift for their entire life. But by having dinner we’re also giving them the gift of our time and attention. That’s priceless.
· Technology stays put away
I don’t compromise on this in my home or at a restaurant. The cell phones stay in purses or pockets. The iPads are put away. At home, I leave my cell phone in a completely different room where I can’t hear it or be tempted by it if it dings. Our dinners at home typically last all of 25-minutes because I have 3 young boys and that is about their attention span. If that’s the same for you, for that short, precious time try leaving all of your phones in another room and just focusing on the people around your dinner table. I often keep my phone close by all day long because I worry what if the school calls and needs me for one of the boys. But at the dinner table, with everyone there, I can just disconnect and put it away. I could teach an entire class on etiquette tips and tricks for technology with children (and will be doing so soonJ.) Try it tonight, when you’re at home or a restaurant, put it all away and see how your child responds to your direct attention for 30-minutes. You’re teaching your child how to behave without technological distractions, how to be patient and wait for their dinner, and how to improve their social interaction etiquette at a table.
Side note: I’ll write more on this later in another post, but when at a restaurant, I always pack a bag of crayons, coloring books, building blocks, legos, etc. Sometimes our conversations revolve around what the kids are coloring, and that’s okay!!
· Let Them Set the Table
I know how incredibly basic this sounds, but it works. Want to teach them which fork to use when they sit down at a restaurant or which water glass is theirs? Have them help set the table at home, and they will get it in a snap. If you’re worried about them carrying glasses or dishes, just set everything they need on the dinner table, but have them actually set it up at each place setting.
· Clear the Table and Help with Dishes
This is an important part of behaving at a restaurant, because it teaches them to be considerate and respectful of the wait staff clearing their plates. If they’ve had to take dishes off the table and to the sink at home, they will look up more and realize when someone is doing it for them. This is essential to instilling etiquette in your children – noticing and appreciating what others are doing for them, and saying “thank you!” Don’t say “thank you” on behalf of your children, they can and should do it themselves. Eventually the goal is for them to clear dishes at home for you without you even having to ask – talk about good manners!
· Allow Your Child to Order for Himself
Your child can do this as soon as they learn to talk. Teach them to say “please” when ordering their meal and “thank you” once the waiter has acknowledged their order. They should also say “thank you” anytime the waiter brings them something or delivers their food. The same as above, this teaches your child kindness and consideration for the person who is waiting on them, and also makes them practice key conversation skills including speaking up, looking the person in the eye and using those magic manner words of “please” and “thank you.”
· Participate in Conversation
Don’t let them off the hook on this. You will only help your child if you teach them at a young age how to be a considerate member of a dinner conversation. So many etiquette skills are involved…not interrupting, saying excuse me, speaking directly to another person and looking him or her in the eye while doing so. And those are just a small few. If you help them be counted and considered in the dinner table conversation, it just may make your time at a restaurant a lot more pleasant on both ends. Not to mention you learn more about your child’s day.