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Etiquette expert Peggy Newfield has trained more than 10,000 Atlanta children to be more confident and considerate individuals.
Etiquette expert Peggy Newfield has trained more than 10,000 Atlanta children to be more confident and considerate individuals.

STORY: Sue Rodman

Every parent hopes to raise a polite and well-mannered child, but in our go-go-go society, it’s not always an easy task. And if manners go by the wayside when kids are young, it gets harder to break their bad habits as they grow older.

Peggy Newfield, president and founder of the Buckhead-based American School of Protocol, which offers etiquette classes for kids in 1st through 12th grades, believes that teaching children manners makes for happier lives and more pleasant relationships.

“Manners give children a set of rules and a road map of how to handle daily life,” says Newfield. Here, she offers easy ideas to introduce social graces into your family.

The Four-Sentence Thank You

Thank you notes should be written when a child receives a gift or an act of kindness. Newfield suggests this four-line formula to keep things simple. The first and second sentence is about the gift. The third sentence is unrelated, and the fourth is again about the gift. For example: “Dear Aunt Jo, thank you for the pink sweater. How did you know I love pink? We are looking forward to seeing you and Uncle Josh at Easter. I plan to wear my sweater with my Easter dress. Love, Jean.”

Conversation Starters

Taking turns, engaging in small talk and not interrupting—these are all valuable life skills rooted in good manners. Practice all of them by seeding interesting dinner conversation. Once children are old enough to read, give them a section of a newspaper or a link to a specific article online. Have them come to the dinner table prepared to talk and share what they learned from the article. For non-readers, have them describe a picture. At the dinner table that evening, everyone has a turn to talk without interruption. Children learn how to participate in conversation, and there’s no need to have the fruitless exchange that goes something like, “How was your day?” “Fine.” “What did you do?” “Nothing.”

Tea for Two or More

The classic tea party is a perfect time for kids to practice minding their P’s and Q’s. Children can serve their stuffed animals or dolls, practice trying different foods and learn how to engage guests. This is also a good way to work on communication skills. Instead of being the host, children can practice being guests, asking the host if they can help to set the table or clear the dishes.

For more ideas on how to teach manners, Newfield suggests Munro Leaf’s classic book Manners Can Be Fun, but stresses the best way to teach etiquette is in the actions you yourself do on a daily basis. “As parents, every action sends a message,” she says.


1. Say “please” and “thank you.”

2. Know how and when to apologize.

3. Say “excuse me.”

4. How to share.

5. Not to interrupt.

6. Be appreciative and grateful.

7. Don’t name call.

8. Be respectful and always treat others as they would want to be treated.

9. Write thank you notes.

10. Offer to help those in need.



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