How to Grow Good Hosts and Hostesses

In today’s world, sometimes our schedules are so jam-packed that we don’t seem to have time for the traditional relaxed family dinnertime.  We squeeze the evening meal in between activities and commitments.  Unfortunately, the evening mealtime in days gone by provided parents with the opportunity to instill manners, social graces and how to be a good host or hostess.  Never fear, we’ve gathered a dozen doable tips to help parents incorporate these into daily life.  

Add zany fun to learning manners.  A good host/hostess needs good manners. Parents can easily direct the process of “manner know-how” with fun family activities. Turn downtime and bedtime into a learning experience with books and DVDs.  The library is filled with humorous books about manners.  Your kids will laugh at loud at some of the characters’ antics in books, such as How Dinosaurs Eat their Food, Dude, That’s Rude and Cookies: Bite-Size Lessons. If you have a Barbie fan in the house, check out the new Princess Charm School DVD.   

Dine as a royal family.  Get the whole family involved in practicing good manners by hosting “royal dinners” at home, says Dallas manners expert Elise McVeigh. These dinners are the perfect time for your princess/prince to practice table etiquette, using correct silverware and how to have polite conversations. McVeigh suggests everyone should use good manners every time you dine so that it soon becomes second nature.

Practice makes perfect with family visits. Let kids assist you when relatives come to visit.  Children can greet visitors at the door, take their coats and hang them in a closet, walk guests to living room to be seated, and offer to get them a drink.  Children gain an awareness of other people’s needs and the proper duties of a host/hostess.

Let’s talk money. Sooner than you can imagine, your little ones will be young adults and money will eventually enter a dinner conversation.  Merrill Lynch Private Wealth Advisor Michael Duckworth suggests preparing your children now. Speak with children about budgeting and saving.  Include kids in discussions about funding family purchases and philanthropy.  Though you’ll be teaching them valuable financial lessons, they’ll see from your example how to think and talk about money in a mature manner. It’s critical to start speaking to children early so they’re comfortable having those conversations in a social situation later as an adult.

Don’t break the rules.  When kids are having friends over, a clean room should not be an option. It should be automatic.  House rules rule all the time, regardless of what a friend is allowed to do at his home.  Say a friend is allowed to jump on the sofa or bed. If it’s not permitted in your house, kids need to heed all home rules.

Ask first. Before your son invites a friend over, he should seek approval from at least one parent. That question should not be asked in front of the friend while walking home from the bus stop or after sports practice. Once permission has been given, designate a timeframe for arrival and departure. Give your child the responsibility of relaying the drop-off and pick-up times and inquiring about animal or food allergies. Children will learn respect for family members in the household and to think before they act. 

What shall we do? With younger children, parents and kids should discuss activity options, as well as snack options, before a guest arrives.  Activities should always include two participants as a single player game would not be very much fun for a guest.

Toss techno devices into a basket. Studies indicate children as young as seven will be carrying cell phones. “Today, a techno device has been substituted for the teddy bear or doll,” says local etiquette expert Demetria Pappas, co-founder of Mother May I. “Though you wouldn’t take away a bear or doll, today’s techno devices are a distraction.”  Pappas suggests placing a basket near the front door for guests to place phones and such. You can always trade a cupcake for a phone. This is especially important when there are several friends visiting.

Be my guest. Greet a visitor at the door. Be sure to take his coat and shoes. With the focus on the guest, encourage your daughter to ask her guest what she would like to do or suggest something.  “I’d like to play basketball. Is that alright with you?” The guest is the most important person in the house during this time.

Stay in your seat until everyone eats. The host should wait until his guest has finished eating, recommends Pappas. “It’s important not to leave a child sitting by himself at the table.”

Stroll to the door. Yelling good-bye from the bedroom to the front door is no-go! Walking a visitor to the front door is polite. At the doorway, your son should thank his friend for visiting and thank his friend’s mom, too.   

Announce an end-of-visit warning.  As a parent, a 30-minute countdown warns children the visit is coming to an end. “Boys, you have 30-minutes before Jacob’s mom will be here to get him. You’ll need to finish the game and put everything away.”  Give a five-minute warning, too. “Boys, Jacob needs to gather his belongings.” This will help eliminate Jacob’s mom waiting until Jacob finds his things.

Michael Duckworth believes parents, by example and through conversations, can help younger generations see, that more than anything else, good character—for which there is no price tag—always wears well in social situations. 

Author M.J. Rulnick has planned more than 400 events, including White House staff members and NFL players.