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Teaching kids holiday manners

Abbi Perets lives in Houston, TX, with her husband and five children.






Raising respectful kids

The holiday season is filled with family meals, gift exchanges, visiting friends and relatives, and lots of interaction. You want your kids to be on their best behavior, but do they know what that means? Take a little time now to talk to your kids about good manners, and you'll all have more good cheer.

Rude girl at Christmas

It's a picture-perfect moment: the extended family gathered around in front of the fireplace. Gifts are artfully placed around the room. A tray of hot cocoa is on the coffee table. Presents are passed out, and Junior eagerly dives in. He tears away the paper and reveals… a rock-painting kit. You can sense the disaster an instant before it occurs, but you can't move quickly enough to stop it. "I don't want this," Junior wails, and conversation stops. Your sister, the gift giver, looks on disappovingly. Now what?

Heading off the damage

It's important to prepare your kids for the holidays properly, and we'll talk about how to do that in a moment. But what do you do when you're right there, surounded by family, and your child makes an ungrateful comment? Quietly excuse yourself and your child, say Dr. Jodi Stoner and Lori Weiner, co-authors of Good Manners are Contagious(Spinner Press 2009).

"Remove your child from the situation," says Dr. Stoner. Calmly explain that his outburst hurt Aunt Sadie's feelings, and tell him directly, "'It is never OK to hurt someone's feelings.' Make sure he makes a sincere apology," she says.

The moment you leave the room, conversation will resume. And while a relative or two may take the opportunity to point out your myriad parenting flaws, the topic will quickly shift. Bring your child back into the room without a fuss. Don't make everyone listen to his apology, just let him go over to make it on his own. Anyone who truly holds a grudge against a child under the age of 10 -- or you -- is looking to pick a fight.

Stop bad manners before they start

If you don't want a holiday experience filled with manners mishaps, it's important to put in some prep work ahead of time. Several days before the gathering, talk to your child about what to expect. Let him or her know that relatives will want to hug and kiss him, even if he doesn't know them that well. Tell him that there's a good chance he'll receive a gift or two he doesn't like. And teach him how to handle that situation.

"Teach specific responses to gifts when he does not receive what he expected," says Dr. Storer. "Teaching specific skills gives your child the confidence to handle difficult situations. It is also a good time to teach your child about the thought behind the gift so he understands the concept that preparation and consideration went into selecting and purchasing a gift for him," she says.

For example, you can tell your child, "If Grandma gives you a gift you don't like, it's still important to say thank you and give her a hug and kiss. She loves you very much, and chose a gift she thought you would like." Try role-playing a few times to give your child practice.

Holiday survival tips

Some families create holiday wish lists to eliminate gift confusion. You can create your child's wish list at Amazon.com and add gifts in a variety of price ranges so that friends and relatives have a selection of guaranteed winners.

You can -- and should -- talk to your kids about the meaning of the holidays. Yes, it's important to let them know that it's not all about the gifts, but it's also important to realize that when a 4-year-old sees a brightly-wrapped present, all bets are off. Remind your relatives that your child is acting his age.

Set a good example for your kids -- and encourage your relatives to do the same. Show genuine appreciation for the gifts you receive. And when your sister's daughter turns up her nose at the gift you lovingly selected, don't make a big fuss. Be the better person, and accept her grudgingly given apology with grace.

Tell us! What's the worst response your child ever had to a gift? Let us know in the comments!

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