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The day she was born, you dreamed of all that lay ahead. You envisioned a gracious young girl?the sort?of daughter other parents admire?one who knows how to make charming conversation and when to hold her tongue. Polite and considerate,
your daughter would know exactly how to behave, whether she was at the ballet with her grandmother or in the stands at a Friday night football game. But that tiny pink bundle wasn?t born knowing the finer points of being a lady. She needs your ...
The day she was born, you dreamed of all that lay ahead. You envisioned a gracious young girl—the sort of daughter other parents admire—one who knows how to make charming conversation and when to hold her tongue. Polite and considerate,
your daughter would know exactly how to behave, whether she was at the ballet with her grandmother or in the stands at a Friday night football game. But that tiny pink bundle wasn’t born knowing the finer points of being a lady. She needs your guidance . . . because honestly, she’ll never know how much perfume is too much or how much gratitude is too little if you don’t explain. Explore these timeless fundamentals of grace, thoughtfulness, and appropriate behavior,
and pass along the lessons to your young lady in-the-making.
The first year of your daughter's life is chock-full of milestones: the first time she sleeps through the night, the first time she rolls over, sits up, crawls, pulls herself up, and the first step. Each of those achievements is easily documented. The first word, however, is a bit more intangible. Parents straining to hear their little girl's primitive attempts at spoken communication will eagerly interpret the most garbled babbling as "Mama" and "Dada." It is nothing less than joyful music to their ears. Slightly less harmonious will be the next addition to her teensy lexicon: "no." In its earliest and most experimental stages, it typically does not indicate rudeness, but a simpler way to communicate displeasure than crying and screaming. It is also an easier word for tiny mouths to form than the more agreeable and pleasant "yes." Though it will be some time before she includes verbs, adverbs, adjectives, and protocol in her conversations, that doesn't mean she isn't soaking up the patterns of speech used by the adults and older siblings in her home.
The best way to introduce and promote mannerly conduct is by example. Children want to emulate the adults in their lives and fit in with the rest of the family. If the words "please" and "thank you" are used without exception in your home, your budding young lady will follow suit. Using "please" and "thank you" yourself is also an opportunity to reward and promote other courteous behavior.
Except in the case of an emergency, encourage the use of the word "please" by not responding to a request until the word is employed. Don't expect a three-year-old to deliver lengthy sentences such as "May I please have a glass of juice?" but help her see the difference between a request and a demand. "Juice!" is a demand that grates on the nerves and will go unheeded; "Juice, please?" is a request, so pleasing to the adult ear it is likely to be met with the cheerful bestowal of the coveted item.
When your daughter's request is granted, she then responds, "Thank you." Adults should, in turn, respond to this simple display of gratitude with a modest expression of approval, "You're welcome," with a smile or quick hug. Rewards are not necessary for behavior that is eventually expected to be a matter of course, with the possible exception of potty training. In that taxing endeavor, the reward system is encouraged. Reserve your applause for accomplishments that deserve it, like an excellent report card or a soccer goal.
It is one small but impressive step from "please" and "thank you" to "yes, please" and "no, thank you," but one not to be expected until the child has mastered the former and uses them as habit. At that point, "Would you like a glass of juice?" has two appropriate responses: "Yes, please" or "No, thank you."
The next phrase to be added to a young lady's socially correct vocabulary is "excuse me." The opportunities for its use will present themselves again and again:
If a young lady inadvertently burps aloud, she says, "Excuse me."
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If a young lady accidentally bumps into someone or steps on toes, the appropriate way to make amends is simply by saying "Excuse me."
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A young lady does not interrupt adults when they are engaged in conversation. If the conversation is a lengthy one, and she has a pressing need that must be promptly attended to, then she might say, "Excuse me, Mommy. I really need to go to the bathroom now!" An attentive mommy will cease her discussion of the novel her book club is reading, and attend to her daughter's request.
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Should a young lady need to have something repeated to her because it was unclear, or she was unable to hear, she says "Excuse me?" She does not say "What?" or even worse, "Huh?"
Your Daughter Is Becoming a Young Lady If ...
She uses "please," "thank you," and "excuse me" on a consistent basis.
She does not point out other children's lack of manners.
When she doesn't understand something that was said to her, she says, "Excuse me?" or "I'm sorry, I didn't hear what you said."
Use "please," "thank you," and "excuse me" in all encounters.
Say "please" when making a request of your daughter.
Say "thank you" to your daughter after she fulfills that request.
Say "excuse me" if you must interrupt her, even if you are becoming impatient with her scene-by-scene description of the movie she just saw.
Occasionally note your daughter's developing sense of good manners.
Compliment your daughter's friends on their good manners.
Try This at Home
To discourage telephone interruptions from my daughter, I hold my hand up in front of her face like a policeman stopping traffic, or turn my back altogether. Unless it is an emergency, I do not stop my conversation until its natural conclusion. As she has gotten older, she has learned not to verbally interrupt; instead, she writes notes: "May I please have a Popsicle?" or "May Audrey spend the night?" and holds them up for me to read. It's an amusing and acceptable compromise.
Some Good Advice
My daughter has been so drilled in the use of "please," "thank you," and "excuse me" that she sometimes automatically prompts others on its use. If I give a glass of milk to one of her friends, who takes it without saying "thank you," Joy has been known to point out the friend's lack of manners. However, it is the parents' job to teach their own children good manners and that the core of good manners is not steadfast attendance to the rules of etiquette, but it is kindness, respect, and consideration for others.
I spent the first half of my life in the North and am closing in on that much time in the South. The Mason-Dixon line is named for the eighteenth-century English astronomers who surveyed this line of demarcation from 1763 to 1767 to resolve a border dispute between British colonies in colonial America, as well as a dividing line between the slave- and non-slave-owning states. Well after the War between the States ended, it came to symbolize the distinct cultural divide between the upper and lower halves of our country.
Thanks to the transitory nature of modern life, not to mention the assimilation of so many different ethnic influences into the fabric of our country, a national homogenization has occurred. But certain broad generalizations persist: people who live below the Mason-Dixon line often consider a Yankee's typical straightforwardness to be discourteous. Conversely, many Northerners take a Southerner's love for idle chitchat with complete strangers as an unwelcome and extremely annoying intrusion.
Southerners also have a tendency to cloak what they really mean in euphemisms. For instance, two Southern ladies are having lunch and discussing an acquaintance who recently lost her children's entire college education fund playing the stock market. They speculate on what could have led her to do such a careless thing. "You know, until he died, he always took care of their money. She's just darling, and the most wonderful mother, but she never did have a head for figures. Bless her heart." In the North, that same conversation would have gone like this: "Thank God Tom always took care of their money because she can't balance a checkbook to save her life."
When the church I attend in Nashville called a clergyman from New York City to be our rector, many were a little apprehensive about a Yankee in the pulpit. But the new reverend was warm and charming and gave brilliant sermons in a frank and straightforward manner. After services one morning he was talking with a group of church members who asked him what he had found to be the biggest difference between Yankees and Southerners. "Well, in the North, you know exactly where you stand with people. In the South, no one ever seems to say what they mean." Bless his heart, he just hadn't learned the language yet.
Growing up in the Northeast, the only time I heard the words "ma'am" and "sir" was when watching television. I thought it was a charming, old-fashioned custom, but when I moved south, I was amazed to find that this habit was not a television fabrication but a way of life for many families.
The use of "sir" and "ma'am" seems to be a practice that parents encourage more in boys than girls, but if you have both genders in your home, it would be inconsistent and confusing to ask Charles to use "sir" and "ma'am," and not Susan. Teaching your son or daughter such politesse is a matter of personal taste. For some adults, the policy governing the use of "ma'am" and "sir" is not grounded in tradition or formalities but is a means of eliminating such grating responses as "Yeah," "Nah," or unintelligible grunts.
If you choose to require their usage, be consistent. Require the titles for both close and distant family members and for both friends and professional acquaintances. As your daughter gets older, she may measure the use of such titles by age and status, with age being the primary factor. As adults are always older than children, then "sir" and "ma'am" are used, and even if your ten-year-old is the star of her own hit television series, adults are still, by virtue of their years, her superiors. As an adult, status becomes the primary measure of when to use these titles, such as when addressing those in authority, like a boss or a police officer.
If your daughter attends a school where formal deportment is part of the curriculum, her teachers may require the use of "sir" and "ma'am" in the classroom. If that is inconsistent with your habits at home, the wishes of the teacher always take precedence in the classroom.
Your Daughter Is Becoming a Young Lady If ...
She routinely uses "sir" and "ma'am" if it is a practice in your family.
She doesn't make fun of people's accents or their regional or cultural speech patterns.
She does not make disparaging remarks about the customs or practices of another culture; for example, "That is so weird!" or "I can't believe you eat that!"
She follows the rules and practices of conduct when visiting someone else's home, such as removing shoes at the front door.
She bows her head and is respectful of a blessing before a meal, regardless of whether she practices the same in her home.
Use "sir" and "ma'am" in appropriate situations if you require its use from your daughter.
Do not require the use of "sir" and "ma'am" from anyone other than your own daughter.
Do not discourage its use by girls who do, even if your own daughter does not. It is not appropriate to monitor another person's manners.
Deliver a reminder, when needed, in a quiet and subtle manner. Veteran users of "sir" and "ma'am" report that once mastered, it becomes a lifelong habit.
Try This at Home
I do not require my daughter to use "sir" and "ma'am," but I do insist—over and over—that she be as articulate as possible, particularly when speaking to the elderly. If she mutters or drawls or runs her words together, I make her repeat it until it is crystal clear. My particular pet peeve is when she doesn't hear or understand something and responds, "Huh?" That is incorrect; the proper way to ask someone to repeat what they have said is, "Excuse me?" or, "I'm sorry, I didn't understand what you said." Insist that your daughter speak clearly, even if you seem to be nitpicky.
Some Good Advice
Moving is always stressful, but moving from one region of the country to another can be extremely daunting. Do a lot more listening than talking and more watching than doing. Don't be afraid to ask your new neighbors to tell you about themselves and their state. New Yorkers moving to Texas will soon find that barbecue is not something you do, but something you eat; that driving friendly means pulling over to the shoulder of the road to let a faster-moving vehicle pass; and that when a store owner says "Come back" as you leave the register, it is not a personal invitation but a figure of speech.
Months before my daughter made her grand entrance at 5:49 a.m. on April 23, 1990, she was being introduced to family, friends, colleagues, and even complete strangers via her grainy black-and-white ultrasound image that I carried with me wherever I went. Given the slightest bit of encouragement, I would pull out the photo and show off the precious little five-month-old fetus that more closely resembled a tootsie roll with appendages than a little girl.
Less than four hours after she was born, my hospital room was full of people cooing over my precious baby girl, peering into her little bassinet, admiring all 7 pounds, 15 ounces, and 20 inches of her. "Hello, I'm your Grandma Joyce!" "Hello, I'm your grandma Edwina!" "Hello, I'm your Aunt Rachel!"
Introductions are a snap at that age, when your little girl can do not much more than stare back at the smiling face hovering inches from her own. As she gets a little older, she may even greet her new friend with a delightful, toothless smile and grasp a grown-up finger in her itty-bitty hand.
First impressions count, and it's almost impossible for a baby to make a bad first impression. Even as they reach the toddler years, young children are usually given the benefit of the doubt. Simply by not appearing sullen, a young girl who does nothing more than smile and venture a shy "hello" will be considered well mannered.
For children, particularly young or shy children, introductions can be extremely uncomfortable. In introducing your daughter to the practice of receiving and eventually making introductions, keep her age and level of intro- or extroversion in mind.
Once a girl is spending more time in the world—at school, on a soccer team, in a ballet class—more can be expected of her. By the time she is approaching those tricky tween years, and her social circle has widened, she should have mastered the basics of responding to introductions. She can even begin performing them when necessary.
Introductions can be tricky to navigate, even for a grown-up, but a fumbling introduction is better than none at all. When in a group of people, it is extremely rude to encounter an acquaintance or colleague and not perform some type of introduction. If you have completely forgotten a name, you might forewarn the people you are with, in the hopes that they can help you by introducing themselves first. If that doesn't work, it's better to confess your poor memory than to fail to make an introduction. If your daughter sees you practicing this basic form of social inclusion without exception, no matter how awkwardly executed it may be, she will come to see that introductions are an integral component of courteous behavior.
According to traditional etiquette, there are three basic rules of introduction:
1. A man is always introduced to a lady.
2. A young person is always introduced to an older person.
3. A less important person is always introduced to a more important person.
Excerpted from HOW TO RAISE A Lady by KAY WEST Copyright © 2012 by Kay West. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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