Teaching Social "Totiquette"

We can all agree that saying “please” and “thank you” are basic manners that we teach to our children. In NYC, we live and share our space with over 8 million individuals, expanding our notion of social etiquette into public spaces.

Simple gestures such as walking down the street without taking up the entire sidewalk, using an “asking” voice instead of a demanding voice, and - lest we forget! - restaurant manners, are all ways to practice good social graces without overextending our busy selves! Creating positive behavior, by setting positive examples and clear expectations, acknowledges that our children are humans, too. This ultimately encourages children to be more confident and accepting of others, and reinforces good social "totiquette."

Luckily, there are many ways to elicit the behavior we expect from our children, as well as a few tips and tricks to avoid unnecessary and unpleasant situations.

Common Courtesy

There are several ways to model conscientious behavior to our children. Explain to them the importance of helping others, such as offering a seat to the elderly or handicapped, or holding the door open for neighbors. Set clear expectations that a young child can achieve, like helping out with chores, or cleaning up after a meal.

Table Manners


It’s never too early to teach children proper ways to behave when sitting down for a meal at home or at a restaurant. Why not make practicing good meal etiquette enjoyable instead of an extra burden? We can do this by:

  1. Creating conversations that children can learn from, are interested in and, most importantly, to which they can contribute. This creates a mealtime environment that is not rushed, and where children want to stay at the table for more than 10 minutes.
  2. Wait for all to be seated at the table until eating begins.
  3. Use those utensils! In the age of rapid-fire technology, eating with our hands has become the norm, as it enables us to multitask on our various electronic gadgets. Taking the time to eat with a fork and knife, and providing children with age-appropriate utensils at a young age, encourages mindful eating and fosters a conversational eating environment.
  4. Use closed lips when chewing food (need we explain??).
  5. Place a napkin in our lap, and use it.
  6. Ask for what we would like, instead of reaching for it.
  7. Ask to be excused at the end of a meal.

Subway Manners

We live in a city where the subway is the center of our universe. Here are some reminders to teach the children who use it every day:

  1. Wait our turn. Allow others to exit the train before boarding. A little patience ensures a smooth flow when those doors open to let others depart.
  2. Walk on the correct side of the stairs, which means the right hand should always be able to hold onto the railing.
  3. Do our best to not block the door, and walk all the way into a train when boarding.
  4. Give up our seat to those more in need.
  5. And, especially important this time of year: cover our mouths with our arm when we sneeze or cough.

Get Connected

While some social etiquette seems like plain common sense, it’s still important to remind our little ones to follow certain rules and avoid in appropriate behaviors such as using loud voices or inappropriate language, or engaging in dangerous running or tantrums. When we see disruptive, fidgety behavior on the horizon, we can change course by using engaging games. For example, while waiting to order at a restaurant, try quizzing the little ones!

  1. What ingredients might be in the meal?
  2. Where does some of the food on the menu come from?
  3. How do you think the chefs are preparing the meal?

There are many fun and educational trivia games to play that encourage us to interact with each other, rather than using our phones and tablets during down time. For instance, naming animal sounds with our preschoolers, reviewing world capitals with our grade-schoolers, and outdoing teenagers with rhyming words (if they’re game - this can really turn out to be a challenge!) can all be more fun than a session of Candy Crush or Angry Birds. A healthy dose of competitive quizzing not only prevents unnecessary disputes where a teaching moment would be ineffective, but also fosters family bonding by hearkening back to the time before electronic devices did the engaging for us!

Set and Enforce Expected Behavior

One of the simplest things we can do is to set expectations - what proves harder is actually sticking to them! Still, if we can do it, our children are more likely to adhere to them as well. Try encouraging and emphasizing positive behavior. When you see good behavior, praise it! Good behavior will click when children perform the act and receive positive recognition.

The Power of the Spoken Word

Teach children to wait their turn by not allowing unnecessary interruptions, and gently correcting demanding voices. Incorporate conscientious phrases such as “excuse me” and “how are you doing?” into everyday encounters. Making our speech more positive can be the first step toward making our world a more positive place.

Demonstrating and re-enforcing positive behaviors doesn't need to be an overwhelming task for adults and children. By starting to slowly incorporate appropriate behaviors and rules, we can help our children become positive contributors and adored house guests. Children learn by example, so let's set the best one we can.

Kristin Hurley

Account Specialist & Education Liaison

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