Busy fall days are upon us and before we know it, the holidays will be here! No doubt you are already making preparations for Thanksgiving, planning events for the upcoming Christmas season, and making your gift shopping lists and checking them twice. Have you thought about also using this time to prepare your children for the holidays? In our crazy-busy lives filled with a long list of “to-dos”, it can be easy to forget to be mindful of teaching our children as well. While we want to create fun and memorable times to enjoy as families, we also need to be training our children how to give and be a blessing to others during the holiday season. One of the more practical ways we do this is by simply teaching them manners. If I could give you one thing you could do today to make your holidays more enjoyable this year it would be to begin now to train your children in the manners you would like to see them exhibit with others this holiday season.
Here’s a practical list of what to teach to get you started. With a little thought I’m sure you can add things that are specific to your situation and important to your family.
Teach your children to greet others with a hello and a hand-shake, and to look them in the eye and smile. If you are hosting and your children are old enough, teach them to greet guests at the door, take their coats, and invite them in while speaking words of welcome.
- The art of conversation
Holidays are full of new people or family members who are seen but once a year. Let your children know who they are likely to see and talk about how they can be a blessing to each one. Give them information about family members they don’t know well and help them find something they can ask about or say to engage them. You can make it more fun if you give them things to ask, like “Be sure to ask Uncle Dave to tell you about how he taught Mommy to play football.” Or “Ask Aunt Jane about the time he tried to give the cat a sun tan!”
Teach them how to listen to the conversation at the table and how to appropriately interject without excessive silliness or distracting behaviors. Prepare them to answer questions the adults will ask. Even our shy children can converse well if they have prepared something to share about life or activities they enjoy. At our family Thanksgiving gathering, before the prayer, each family member shares something from the past year for which they are thankful. We had our boys think about this ahead of time so they were ready when their turn came to speak. By being able to engage with adults, our children can be a huge blessing to extended family members who are anxious to connect with them.
- Table manners
Table manners are something we work on often, but at home things can be more relaxed and informal, so we may need to shore up any manners that we have let slip. Things like:
- Chew quietly with your mouth closed.
- Don’t talk with your mouth full.
- Keep your elbows off the table.
- Don’t make faces or rude remarks about food you don’t like. Politely refuse food that is offered that you don’t want.
- Pass food items without reaching in front of others.
- Say please and thank you.
Larger gatherings may require some additional training. How will the food be served? Will it be family style at the table or a buffet? Train them ahead of time how to take a reasonable serving and to carefully carry their plates to the table. Teach children to let others go first. Once our boys were old enough to get their own plates, we taught them to wait for the adults to be served first as a way to honor age. It also taught them patience!
- HOW to teach this with only 2 weeks until Thanksgiving!!
Role play! Identify the areas you want to concentrate on teaching your children. (Hopefully you have been teaching them the basics before now!) Take them through the process step-by-step, teaching them what to say or do (and what not to) in each situation. This can actually be a fun activity! For example, have Dad ring the doorbell when he gets home from work and let your child practice answering the door. Let your child take turns being the host and the guest and practice it many times so he can get it right. Serve dinner buffet style to teach them how to properly fill their plates. Pretend to be different family members at the table and practice talking to them. Ask your kids questions they will likely hear (How’s school? What fun things are you doing now?) and help them to think of various things they can say in response. Preparing our children ahead of time can save us from having to teach or correct in the moment when we want to be enjoying our family holiday.
- And don’t forget to teach the WHY!
Why are manners important? We love, because He first loved us we read in 1 John 4:19. Our children need to learn that we love Christ by loving others and manners is a means to do that. Even a child is known by his actions, by whether his conduct is pure and right. (Proverbs 20:11)
Teaching manners is a practical tool in virtuous living that gives our kids handles to grasp the biblical truths we teach them everyday. Manners are the rubber-meets-the-road “how-tos” of thinking of others and showing love, kindness, patience, gratitude, and self-control. Connecting the action with the moral and practical reason helps your child remember and follow through.
Here are a few verses you can use to explain the moral reason behind the manners you are teaching.
Colossians 3:12 So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
Philippians 2:3-5 Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus,
Colossians 4:6 Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.
1 Corinthians 13:4 Love is patient, love is kind.
1 Corinthians 13:5 Love is not rude.
Ephesians 4:32 Be kind to one another.
1 Peter 3:8 Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous;
Hebrews 13:2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.
There are so many benefits to preparing our children for the holidays through training them in manners. Your family can be a blessing to your extended family and friends and show Christ to them through the beauty of loving actions. Training them ahead of time can free you to spend your time investing in others and avoid having to correct your children during holiday visits. Pre-instructing your children in what to expect, as well as what is expected, can help them to choose right actions and give them concrete ways to be a blessing to others. The holidays are a great time to give your children real world experience in the art of putting others’ interests ahead of their own!