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Teach good manners — with a little help

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Historically the guides of social expectations or etiquette were passed along orally, sometimes from the pulpit. Often they were even versified:

Good little boys should never say,

"I will," and "Give me these:"

O, No! that never is the way

But, "Mother, if you please,"

The manuals, intended for adults, included behavior of children particularly to "be seen and not heard." In a collection called "The Babes Book" (1863), expectations included instruction on proper handing of food as well as how the child was to say grace "without hesitation." Additional text advised that children were to sleep on their sides (never back or belly) with reminders to "not be disagreeable to your school fellows." Children were also cautioned to be "civil, obliging, gentle and kind."

Advice for parents said, "Above all things avoid the appearance of believing that your children are prodigies of genius, and you will cultivate in them a modest self-respect which will make for them friends innumerable, and habits of mind that may be better than fortune."

During the 18th century, children were taught to read from manuals of etiquette printed in tiny chapbooks or attached to hornbooks. Penmanship, spelling and elocution lessons were extractions from "treatises of etiquette."

George Washington, at the age of 15, wrote "Rules of Courtesy and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation," which included pithy rules such as "Sleep not when others Speak, sit not when others stand, Speak not when you Should hold your Peace, walk not when others Stop," and "Kill no Vermin as Fleas, lice, ticks . . . in the Sight of Others."

"Goops and How to be Like Them: A Manual of Manner for Polite Infants" by Gelett Burgess (1900) was one of the first "rules of niceties" illustrated in cartoonlike style. "The Goops they lick their fingers/ And the goops they lick their knives;/ They spill their broth on the tablecloth—Oh, they lead disgusting lives!" became a rhyme to chant for rope-jumping.

The person best known for rhetoric on social rules was Emily Post (1873-1960), whose book "Etiquette" (1922) lasted through many editions. Her daily column appeared in more than 200 syndicated newspapers for many years.

The third generation of Post authors, great-grand-daughters Peggy Post and Cindy Post Senning, keep the etiquette of living in the public eye. They are co-directors of the Emily Post Institute, which oversees diverse projects regarding social living including seminars, media and book coverage. Their recent book, "The Guide to Good Manners for Kids" (HarperCollins) defines situations of social correctness in everyday life.

"We speak to kids about what matters to them, about situations they encounter. We want to give them the confidence to handle whatever comes their way and to understand the importance of respect, consideration and honesty — the principles of etiquette," said Peggy Post.

The guide is divided into seven chapters highlighting home, school, special occasions and times away from home. The sections are short essays including many relevant question-and-answers.

Sprinkled with pencil sketches, the text is friendly and inviting: "Sometimes work is boring. . . . Sometimes work is gross. . . . Sometimes work is not what you want to be doing. . . . You decide what attitude you bring to the job. . . . The choice is yours. What will it be?" One box advises, "Boredom is no excuse!" with the reminder "don't horse around" when riding public transportation.

While the intentions for some manners appear similar throughout the years, rules in "The Guide to Good Manners for Kids" reflect contemporary issues such as behavior in the shopping mall, attending worship services with others, lunchroom mayhem and concert rules. O.L.E. (online etiquette) provides great ideas and the references to the use of cell phones and call waiting could be applied to anyone.

The section "At Home: The Family Zone" contains pertinent ideas from "bathroom wars" to borrowing clothes from another family member. The idea of "respect — the glue that holds us together" would be a nifty subject for a family home evening. The authors note, "If you're not sure whether something is an invasion of privacy or not, just ask yourself how you would feel if someone else did it to you." This is an on-the-refrigerator-message if there ever was one!

I enjoyed "Good Manners for Kids" very much (however, I would like to have seen more sketches of boys!) and think there are lessons for all classrooms and homes tucked inside.

Other books about manners that I find delightful:

"Table Manners" by Vladimir Radunsky and Chris Raschka (Candlewick).

"The Bad and Good Manners Book" by Babette Cole (Dial).

"Manners" by Aliki (Greenwillow).

"Madeline Says Merci" by John Bemelmans Marciano (Viking).

"EDDYCAT Introduces Mannersville, U.S.A." by the American Etiquette Institute.

"Say Please" by Virginia Austin (Candlewick).

E-mail: marilou.sorensen@worldnet.att.net