Manners Count: A Quick Primer Before the Holidays

Local etiquette expert Patricia A. O’Brien wants children to be well behaved.

So in her classes, “Manners Please,” she focuses on 5 areas as the bedrock of proper manners.

1) Dining skills, navigating forks and spoons, how to cut meat and proper use of a dinner napkin
2) Making introductions and shaking hands
3) Party etiquette
4) Thank you notes
5) Magic words:  “Please,” “May I,” “Excuse me,” Thank You,” and “You’re Welcome.”

“There are rules,” says the smiling woman, whose own manners are impeccable. “No cell phones or texting at the dinner table. But to make this stick, Mom and Dad, you have to observe that too.”

O’Brien’s initial profession was nursing, but her etiquette credentials are like sterling on silver. In her 13 years as an instructor she has obtained certifications from the Protocol School of Washington in McLean, Virginia, the Etiquette Leadership Institute in Atlanta, and the Emily Post Institute.

Introductions are challenging for most children. “In class we stand everyone in a circle and each child must go around the circle and introduce himself or herself to each child,” she says. “The most important thing is to look the person in the eye and shake hands firmly. We work a lot on that.”

We behave better when we are dressed up, so O’Brien requests party clothes for the classes. “No gym shoes or blue jeans,” she declares. “Boys wear suits or a sport coat with slacks and a collared shirt and tie, girls are to be in festive dresses.”

And since in social situations you meet new people, the children sit separately from siblings and best friends. At her upcoming classes, there is a tutorial meal, providing the opportunity to practice good manners.

Example is powerful. “I urge parents to commit to one night, maybe Friday, for a sit-down family meal,” she says. “Children should learn how to make dinner table conversation. Select a topic, something they understand from the news, perhaps, or a favorite family sport.

“And,” she repeats, “Everyone must silence cell phones, even Mom and Dad!”

Just in time for holiday dinners she’s giving two 4-hour classes titled “Manners, Please” for persons 8 to 14 years old at Gorton Community Center in Lake Forest Nov. 12 and Dec. 17.

Gorton Community Center is located at 400 E. Illinois Road, Lake Forest. Classes are from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. lunch included. Tuition is $85. Call 847-234-6060 or visit

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