Teaching Our Children to Speak with Adults

This week, I spent two evenings at large local college fairs representing my Alma Mater, the University of Notre Dame. As our community's local Alumni Schools Coordinator, it is my volunteer responsibility to attend these events in lieu of our Admissions Representatives who cannot be present at every local fair. Last night, I met and spoke with over three hundred students and their parents, answering their questions about Notre Dame.

Many of the students I met were very interested in potentially applying to Notre Dame. A few were even downright passionate about it. What shocked me, however, was how few of them took care to make a great first impression. Granted, I am a volunteer and not the person who will be making decisions about their admission status. But they don't know that — for all they know, I could be the one person who is ultimately responsible for that decision. Most of the students I met were inappropriately dressed, grabbed materials off my table while making loud jokes with buddies and didn't take the process too seriously. The few kids who completely impressed me were the ones who took the time to wait in line patiently, shake my hand, look me in the eye, introduce themselves and ask a relevant question.

Last night underscored for me the vital importance of teaching my own sons, growing young men, the critical nature of making a great first impression. Regardless of the circumstances, my sons need to know how to meet and speak with adults. This afternoon, I had a frank discussion on this topic with my almost thirteen-year-old Adam. I asked him what tips he would give to parents on how they could help teach these types of manners to their children. Along with the expected advice such as "Give a firm handshake" and "Look them in the ey,e, Adam shared the following bit of wisdom:

"Tell them to speak with the grown up as they would with one of their friends."

Oh no, I thought to myself, we have some work to do. I asked Adam to clarify his point for me and he went on to explain that the problem many kids his age have speaking with grown ups is the fact that adults can be intimidating to youngsters. So I prompted him a bit:

"Like you speak with your friends, but with respect, right?"

"Mom, I should be speaking with my friends with respect all the time too!"

Okay, Mom schooled by the seventh grader! I think Adam has a valid point — it gave me pause to question how nervous those kids in line at my Notre Dame table probably felt last night. Adam and I came to the mutual conclusion that practice makes perfect when teaching kids manners. Practice at home and take every opportunity to introduce your son or daughter to those with whom you may be conversing, giving them the opportunity to rehearse social skills. This can start at the youngest of ages, but it's also never too late to start. If your Senior in high school lacks social graces, make it a priority to help him overcome his anxiety or attitude soon, before he enters the world a step behind.

Ultimately, it is also our duty to model for our children the type of behavior we hope they will master. That's why I continue to work on this area in my own communication skills on a daily basis. Greeting each person we interact with in a professional and compassionate manner can go a long way towards making our world a better place.

Homework for Today:

— Have a practice "meet and greet" session after dinner one night this week. Reinforce eye contact, addressing the person by Mr., Ms. or Mrs., and a firm handshake. Children and adults will benefit from this rehearsal.

On the Bookshelf:

Be The Best You Can Be: A Guide to Etiquette and Self-Improvement for Children and Teens.


Lisa Hendey, Catholic wife and mom, is the founder and webmaster of www.CatholicMom.com and the author of A Book of Saints for Catholic Moms: 52 Companions for Your Heart, Mind, Body and Soul and The Handbook for Catholic Moms: Nurturing Your Heart, Mind, Body and Soul. Lisa writes for several online and print publications, enjoys speaking around the country and hosts the Catholic Moments Podcast. Visit her at LisaHendey.com.

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