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The Art of Receiving: The Five Week Manners Makeover Step 5

by Danica Waters / photo credits at bottom of post


Now that we’ve covered Basic Table Manners, The Art of Conversation, The Art of Greeting, and the Art of Giving, now it’s time to learn The Art of Receiving.


Everybody likes to receive presents, right?  In theory, receiving an outpouring of someone else’s thoughtfulness and generosity should not only make us feel super-special, it’s supposed to be downright fun.  So why is it that so very many of us unwittingly make an absolute mess out of the act of receiving a gift?  See if any of these scenarios sound familiar:


Scenario #1:

After spending a month quizzing common friends on gift ideas, scouting out every retail shop within a 50-mile radius for exactly what she was looking for, and spending nearly an hour gift wrapping, Betsy finally found what she thought was the perfect gift for her dear cousin.  She was so excited!  Upon arriving at the cousin’s annual holiday party, Betsy proudly handed her the gift and said, “This, my dear, is for youwith a look of anticipation all over her face.  “Oh!  Thank you so much!” her cousin replied, giving her a hearty hug.  Then, without opening the gift and much to Betsy’s dismay, her cousin proceeded to tell her all about the wonderful, mind-blowing gift she’d just received from another friend of hers.  Betsy’s package disappeared into the hustle and bustle of the house, and she ended up leaving that evening not even knowing if her cousin had opened her gift or what she thought of it if she had.


Scenario #2:

Still smarting from her gift-giving experience the night before, Betsy delivered a small but thoughtful gift to a co-worker.  Upon presenting the gift, the co-worker looked at her, cleared his throat, and said, “So I suppose you want me to open this now?”  The situation became instantly uncomfortable; Betsy replied that he should feel free to open it whenever he had a minute – it was nothing big, just a small token to say “happy holidays”.  The co-worker brusquely said “Thanks”, and Betsy spent the rest of her workday feeling awkward and uncomfortable about having tried to do something nice.


Scenario #3:

Betsy had had just about enough, but she figured that the holidays were really for children anyway.  She’d been invited to have afternoon tea at a friend’s home.  Knowing that her friend had children, she brought a little something for each of them in beautifully wrapped boxes.  Her friend called her children, telling them that Betsy had brought them each a present.  The kids ran into the room, snatched the presents from Betsy’s hands without even saying “hello” to her, and ripped into the boxes.  Two of the three seemed to like what they got, quickly saying “thanks” as they ran upstairs with their new toys.  The third opened his box and said, in front of everyone in the room, “That’s it?  But I don’t want this one.  It’s a little kid toy.”


Ever been in Betsy’s position?  “Just can’t get no respect“?  Before you find yourself stocking up on lumps of coal to hand out next year, here’s something to consider:


For some people, receiving isn’t as easy as it seems.

Sometimes people who are normally terrific, jovial, outgoing folks can morph into somewhat defensive, definitely ungracious, and in some cases downright rude individuals when they are presented with a gift.  These folks demonstrate receiving issues for a variety of reasons:

1.  They feel embarrassed that they don’t have anything to give in return;

2.  They don’t feel worthy;

3.  They’re not comfortable showing you how much your gift really means;

4.  They feel vulnerable, like they’ll owe you something by accepting your gift;

5.  They simply don’t know how to be grateful;

6.  Alas!  They are rude and selfish ingrates who should be banished from society forevermore.  (Thankfully, this isn’t usually the case.)


The Art of Receiving

Receiving is an art form that must be carefully considered and even practiced, especially if you or your child happens to experience receiving issues accompanied by any of the feelings listed above.  Receiving graciously is ultimately an act of humility, and, in the words of Jacques Maritain, “Gratitude is the most exquisite form of courtesy.”

When mentally practicing the Art of Receiving, here’s some things to keep in mind:

1.  Receiving is the other part of a two-way street.  By receiving any gift graciously, you are allowing the Giver to experience the joy of giving.  To receive in an ungracious, stunted, or rude manner strips the Giver of his/her opportunity to experience that joy..

2.  The Giver has already decided that you are worthy.  Accept their opinion.  Insecurity is a heavy beast to battle.  But if feelings of low self worth are stunting your ability to receive graciously, turn your attention to the thoughtfulness of the Giver.  Make them feel appreciated and special for their kindness and consideration towards you.

3.  The Giver didn’t expect you to have a gift ready to reciprocate.  Honestly, unless you just totally blew off your duties as a Secret Santa, the person who just gave you a gift really has no expectation of receiving anything in return.  Your sincere expression of joy and gratitude will be enough to make their giving experience complete.  Don’t rush to reciprocate, either, or you’ll run the risk of looking like you’re giving out of a feeling of obligation rather than inspiration.

4.  Learn how to be grateful for the little things. Learning to focus on and be grateful for seemingly little things that we receive every day is a great way to become accustomed to the experience of receiving.  Maybe it’s really appreciating how your mom always put the right amount of brown sugar on your oatmeal in the mornings, how your husband always brings you perfectly-brewed coffee every morning as you are getting ready for work, or how Grandma always sets out hot tea and cookies when you drop in out of the blue.  Maybe it’s really noticing that your co-worker always has your back in a pinch, or that your neighbor always brings in your trash cans while you’re at work. Getting used to feeling grateful on a daily basis will hone your ability to experience and convey a genuine feeling of gratitude for any gift you’re given, no matter how big or how small.  Becoming acutely aware of and grateful for the little gestures people extend to us every single day sensitizes us to our own ability to positively impact others’ lives in little ways, as well.


The Formalities: What to do when you are given a gift:

Having tuned into your sense of gratitude, it’s now time to practice the formal expression within the Art of Receiving:


1.  Look the Giver in the eye, smile, and say “Thank You”.

2.  Mention that you sincerely appreciate their thoughtfulness, and express excitement at seeing what they’ve given you.

3.  When opening the gift, your focus and attention should be on the Giver; try to avoid becoming distracted until you’ve finished opening and appreciating the gift.

4.  Take a minute to compliment the gift wrap, if applicable.  Express gratitude over the time and effort taken.

5.  Even if you HATE the gift you’ve been given, look past any personal disappointment and find a way to compliment the Giver’s selection, i.e. “This scarf is simply the nicest color pink!”

6.  Look the Giver in the eye again, smile, and express your gratitude again for the Giver’s time, consideration, and generosity.


How to teach your kids the Art of Receiving

Practice makes perfect.  Role-playing potential gift-related scenarios in advance helps kids know what to do and say when the time comes.


Hopefully, with awareness and a bit of practice, the circle of giving will be complete and joyous this holiday season and beyond.




Photo Credits:

Baby with gift courtesy

Woman handing gift courtesy

Woman with several gifts courtesy

Disappointed child courtesy

Rodney Dangerfield courtesy

Insecure girl courtesy

Circle of hands courtesy

Chinese women exchanging gifts courtesy


Posted November 15th, 2011.

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The Art of Giving: The Five Week Manners Makeover Step 4

by Danica Waters / photo credits at bottom of post

With three weeks of practicing Basic Table Manners, two weeks of practicing the Art of Conversation, and a week’s worth of practice on how to nail the perfect greeting and a great handshake, it’s time to move on to the next step in our Five Week Manners Makeover:

The Art of Gift Giving


This next step takes some time and lots of talking, so be prepared.


With the sometimes mind-numbing hustle and bustle of the holiday season, all too often gift-giving endeavors are reduced to:

a)  an ever-evolving list of people who should receive something of equal or greater value to the gift slated for the next person on the list, often based on a sense of historical or social obligation vs. inspiration and joy;

b)  a distribution from a pile of whimsical but impersonal things collected from various sales throughout the year;

c)  a detached, materialistic and rather mechanical “thing that must be done” during the holidays, often accompanied by little or no thought of the person to whom the gift is to be given;

d)  a dreaded financial burden when all is said and done.


Needless to say, kids get confused when they are told time and again that “giving is better than receiving”, and yet they never really learn the art of giving and how it can make them – and the gift recipient – feel when the act is genuine, personal, and from the heart.  Like any other life skill, kids only know what they’re taught.  Kids can learn how to “get off the hook” and mechanically give Grandpa another token pair of holiday socks just as easily as they can learn how to really consider everything Grandpa really means to them and construct a meaningful gift accordingly.

Listen to your heart.

Try this:  before you write your holiday gift-giving list, take a quiet moment to ask yourself who impacted your life in a truly positive way this year.  What does that list look like?  Don’t be surprised if you’re surprised; the list may include people you don’t really know, but really, really appreciate, like that checker at the grocery store who always manages to put a smile on your face, even when you’re grumpy after a long day, or that teacher that makes your children feel inspired, like they can achieve anything?  (Note from author: To me, honoring these folks first makes me feel like I’m honoring myself and my intuition, adding emotional substance to the gifts I choose to give and the reasons why I choose to give them. It also helps me put my values and my relationships in perspective, while taking a good look at how I impact others’ lives, as well.)  Do this by yourself first; then sit down and try the exercise with each of your children.  You’ll gain precious insight into their lives and their values, as well.


Give unconditionally.

Sometimes folks can feel put on the spot, or perhaps as though you have ulterior motives, when they receive a gift of appreciation. In instances where you would like to show your appreciation but feel that it might result in an uncomfortable situation, giving anonymously is a great way to go.  Even if you don’t get the pleasure of seeing the recipient’s response, please don’t ever underestimate how much that coffee house gift card will be appreciated.


On the same note, unconditional giving means that even if you give personally and directly and do not receive the kind of appreciative response you’d hoped for, your heart was in the right place.  Do not become offended.  It just might be that the recipient is overwhelmed, self-conscious, or simply doesn’t know how to respond appropriately.  Move on, forgive, and be happy knowing you gave for all the right reasons.


A great way to teach your kids the joy of unconditional giving is to come together as a family to choose a recipient for an anonymous family gift.  In addition to charitable giving, choosing an anonymous gift for someone who is just simply an awesome human being is a fun way to bring your family together to celebrate great energy.


Great gifts mean something .

Retailers are there to be, well, retailers.  They put lots of “pretty shiny things” out to attract and distract shoppers, usually overwhelming and confusing them to such an extent that they end up purchasing items they never intended to buy in the first place.  Putting thought into the meaning behind your gift-giving will not only help you stay on track with your budget, but it will ensure that the meaning behind the gift you give will not be diluted along the way.  Does your aunt really need another scarf/hat/mitten set?  Or would it mean more to her for you to give her a unique piece of vintage jewelry to add to her collection?  In talking with your son about a possible gift for Grandpa, chances are that token pair of holiday socks will turn into an elaborate handmade picture of the time he took your son fishing, accompanied by an assortment of Grandpa’s favorite fishing snacks.  More expensive?  Nope.  More meaningful?  Absolutely.


“Think beyond the stuff”.

Most of the time, stuff is just that:  STUFF.  We don’t know what to do with the stuff we’ve already got, let alone more of it.  As a happier alternative, give gifts of shared time and/or experience, such as a monthly scheduled tea party with Grandma or tickets to the museum for your child and his/her BFF.  Be creative.  Make it special.  Try giving Grandma a new calendar with pre-scheduled dates for your tea parties already marked in bright, happy colors – make each party have a different theme, i.e. – February = Valentine chocolates, March = lemon cakes, September = celebrate the blackberries, etc.  Lighter on the heart, easier on the environment!


Wrap It Up!

Yes, it takes time.  And patience.  And maybe even a couple of tries.  But what would YOU rather receive:  an unwrapped gift, or one that had been carefully wrapped to the best of the giver’s ability?


Now take gift wrapping one step further:  how can you make it eco-friendly?


Here’s a video on how the Japanese utilize pieces of cloth to wrap their gifts:







Photo Credits:
Gift w/ Gold Ribbon courtesy of

Hands holding heart courtesy of

“Pay it forward” courtesy of

Smiling Child courtesy of

Seedlings in eggshells courtesy of

Clip art gifts courtesy of


Posted November 8th, 2011.

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The Art of Greeting: The Five Week Manners Makeover, Step 3

by Danica Waters / photo courtesy of

Remember being a little kid and absolutely dreading those first few awkward minutes of meeting someone you hadn’t seen in a long time, or perhaps didn’t know at all?  No matter if the semi-strangers had extended an invitation to an event at their home or if the occasion found them invading your home, one of two things was certain to happen during the greeting process:

1.  You’d be eyeballed up and down like you were some sort of germ-ridden-troublemaker-to-be and summarily dismissed, or;

2.  You’d end up having your cheeks pinched off your face as you were slathered in kisses and lipstick stains,  barraged with a million questions you didn’t know how to answer, by someone you really didn’t know all that well at all.

Not knowing what to do in either instance, you’d visibly shrink there next to your parents, feeling awkward and silent and uncomfortable and wishing to all heck you could will yourself to disappear altogether.  Anxiety amplified as you quickly realized that your own embarrassment was unwittingly embarrassing your parents.   “Say something, silly!” they would admonish, nudging you further into the line of fire. “Don’t just stand there like a bump on a log!  Ha ha ha….!  Kids – I’ll tell you…”

And there you were, feeling like a germ-ridden-troublemaker the rest of the evening.


In the words of America’s etiquette expert, Peggy Post, “Most etiquette dilemmas arise when people don’t know what to do. This results in a feeling of uncertainty and, ultimately, a sense that you may do something wrong or offend someone.”  Yep.   And that’s not a happy space for anyone to be in – especially kids.

Now’s the time to practice the Art of Greeting, so that your children can negotiate these awkward moments with confidence and poise now and in the future.


Tips to a perfect greeting:

1.  Look the person in the eye and smile!

2.  No mumbling!  Speak confidently and clearly, even if you’re feeling shy.

3.  It’s best to call the person by name:  “Hello, Mr. and Mrs. Humphries / Aunt Matilda / etc.  It’s nice to meet you/see you again.”

4.  Strangers or acquaintances should be greeted with a handshake; if the person is a relative or someone close to you, you should greet them with a hug.


How to give a proper handshake:

1.  Right hand to right hand, thumbs up (not a limp, palms-down hand)

2.  Firm grip, but not too tight or too limp

3.  Only two to three “pumps”, then release hands.  No shaking the other person’s arm off!


Other tips:

1.  Feeling useful is one of the most powerful confidence builders out there.  If the event is being held in your home, children can offer to help take guests’ coats or show them a secure place where they can put their bags.  Teach them to treat these articles with care.  (If you are attending an event at another home, remind children to say “thank you” when someone takes their jacket.)

2.  If you’re hosting the event, it’s a great idea to review the guest list with your kids in advance.  Letting them know about the personalities and interests of the people coming to the party goes a long way towards helping kids feel confident about their participation in the event.


With practice, your kids’ kind, confident greeting skills might even help them avoid lipstick and cheek pinching altogether.

And remember:  keep practicing Basic Table Manners  and The Art of Conversation!




Posted November 1st, 2011.

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The Art of Table Conversation: The Five Week Manners Makeover, Step Two

by Danica Waters / image credits at bottom of page

Now that we have a week of practicing basic table manners under our belts, it’s time to add Step 2 to the etiquette arsenal.  One of the most frequently overlooked aspects of having great etiquette is the art of making conversation.

Table conversation is magic.  This is the place where children get to know adults as real people rather than basic authority figures.  This is where the family stories are told, where children learn about themselves, and about life.  Of equal or greater importance, this is your opportunity to get to know them.  The ability to maintain a healthy table conversation, rather than responding in uncomfortable monosyllables or completely monopolizing the entire conversation, is a skill that will serve them for the rest of their lives.


Here’s a quick review of the most basic rules of conversation etiquette:


1.  Don’t talk with your mouth full.

In the event someone asks you a question while you’re mid-mouthful, simply smile and indicate silently that you’ll need a minute to finish chewing.


2.  Don’t speak too loudly, or too softly, either. 

Practice good table speaking volume, and talk about whether any of your guests have hearing problems, so everyone can be aware and act accordingly.


3.  Speak to people on both sides of you, and directly across the table.

Talk to your children about how they’d feel if the people they were sitting next to at the table never acknowledged or spoke to them.  Manners are about making everyone feel comfortable and welcome.   To that point, take some time to consider who your children will feel most comfortable around.  Some people simply make kids want to shrink, or they encourage impish misbehavior at the table.  This is where seating arrangements can come in very handy.  Have your kids help make the place cards!


4.  Practice the art of small talk.

A great way to make enjoyable conversation is to know in advance about the interests, talents, or experiences of your guests.  Let your kids know that Uncle Bob once went on a jungle safari “back in the day”, or that ancient Aunt Gertie won a Blue Ribbon at the State Fair for her knitted saddle warmer.   It will give them a conversation-starting advantage.

Also, if small talk is a challenge, try picking up a conversation game like Table Topics at the local bookstore.  It’s a great way to get folks talking, laughing, and sharing at the dinner table.


5.  Choose appropriate topics to speak about.

You don’t want to embarrass anyone by divulging personal family issues or speaking about things that are not appropriate for table conversation.  Discuss in advance what topics would be best kept off-limits at your event.



Not. Even. One. Single. Teeny. Tiny. One.  Not from you, not from me. I don’t care if you heard that a loud, voluptuous burp is considered a “two-thumbs-up” to chefs in Arabic countries.  It’s not true, and we’re not there.


TIP:  Make up an emergency code word for etiquette emergencies. 

In the world of good manners, there’s a lot to remember, and even with lots of practice, kids sometimes get ahead of themselves.  That’s why it’s a good idea to develop a code word or phrase or signal system you can use with your children in the event they get a bit too excited or forget their manners at the table.  With practice and teamwork, a simple phrase like “My, I am looking forward to that PIE” and some direct, meaningful eye contact can easily and effectively curb behavior without the public embarrassment of a point-blank reprimand.  This method makes kids feel “partnered in” rather than feeling belittled, and it works beautifully most of the time.


Given that etiquette accidents do happen, be sure to discuss with your kids ahead of time how to react to others’ faux pas.  As hysterical as it might happen to be, if someone else at the table accidentally slips up, no laughing.


Not even if

dear, sweet, ancient Aunt Gertie

lets out a post-champagne


Not one peep.

image #1 – crowd at dinner table courtesy of

image #2 – burping cartoon image courtesy of


Posted October 25th, 2011.

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The Five-Week Manners Makeover

by Danica Waters (photo credits at end of post)

Aahhhh…. Autumn.  Blustery late-October winds send the last leaves scattering and Christmas holiday merchandise creeps steadily onto Store-Shelves-Near-You.

This is an exciting time of year; with the onset of winter holiday festivities, you find yourself considering travel plans and gift lists, mulling over menu options and guest lists. And then, at the dinner table one night, the chilly mists of anxiety waft over you as you realize that the family table etiquette you thought you’d whipped into shape long ago has not even remotely recovered from the long, lazy, finger-licking days of summer.


Finger-licking indeed.

You watch for a minute or two with a bit of a sickening feeling accompanying your current state of disbelief.  Yes, you really did see Johnny lick his fingers after using them to pick up a long green bean and nibble it from the bottom up.  And yes, you really are watching little Katy blow air in and out of a limp macaroni noodle that has had all the cheese sucked off of it.   Eeesh.

The Five-Week Manners Makeover

There’s just enough time from now until Thanksgiving to give the whole family a manners makeover.  Since most major holiday celebrations involve lots and lots of time around a table, practicing basic table manners is the best place to start.

Week 1:  Focus on Table Settings and Basic Table Etiquette

Explain the placement of table settings and let them practice setting the table properly at mealtimes.  You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how quickly they’ll learn with a little practice!  To brush up on the correct way to set a table, feel free to visit the following videos, compliments of The Emily Post Institute and Howcast:


Basic Table Setting


Formal Table Setting


Review the Other Behavior Basics:

1.  Wash your hands before coming to the table.

2.  Put your napkin in your lap.

3.  Don’t start eating until everyone at the table has been served, or until the hostess eats.

4.  Hold and use your utensils properly.

5.  Say “please” and “thank you” when food, seasonings, or condiments are passed.

6.  Food is usually passed from right to left to avoid confusion; however, observe what’s happening and act accordingly.

7.  If you happen to be overlooked for something, no reaching across someone else’s plate; quietly ask for something to be passed.

8.  Chew with your mouth closed; don’t talk with your mouth full.

9.  Wait to be excused from the table; offer to help clear dishes from the table.

10.  Always remember to thank the cook!


It’s their party, too. 

Kids learn better when they are involved and treated as an integral part of the big picture.  Rather than teaching manners as “Rules-That-Must-Be-Followed”, explain that using good manners helps make everything more special.  Then get them involved in the creative and planning stages of the event.  Entrusting them with responsibilities, such as folding fancy napkins or making personalized place cards for all the guests, gives them a personal stake in the overall success of the event.

Practice makes perfect.

Every mealtime presents another opportunity to make something good even better.  Use the extra time afforded on weekends to practice something a bit more formal.

And remember: kids aren’t the only ones who need reminders and repetition. (Just sayin’.)





 Photo Credits:

table image:

girl licking fingers:

boy scratching head:

boy eating spaghetti:

man eating spaghetti:




Posted October 18th, 2011.

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Etiquette and the Birthday Bash

by Danica Waters

If ever there was a hotbed for potential etiquette nightmares, the birthday party is IT.  Here’s what you need to know about Etiquette and the Birthday Bash:


(Oh, and BTW:  most of this information is directed towards children’s parties, as they are sadly, but typically, the most politically-charged.  All of the information will easily carry forward to adults’ parties, as well…)


On the subject of Invitations:


How many people should I invite?  Of course, when it comes to a birthday celebration, most kids want to invite everyone they know.  This will never be a comfortable situation, as you, the parent, are put in the unenviable position of needing to balance your sanity, your budget, and the feelings of the 20 other friends or schoolmates who may or may not receive an invitation.  Here are some things to think about:

    • Age:  A good way to avoid an overwhelming situation (for both you and your child!) is to invite as many children as your child’s age – plus one.  So if your child is turning six, invite seven children to the party.  This way the small child will not be overwhelmed, and with every passing year they’ll learn to handle bigger and bigger crowds.
    • Budget:  Do yourself and your child a favor, and get real about your budget.  It’s really easy to feel like you need to “Keep up with the Joneses” – and the peer pressure can be brutal.  But giving in to that kind of mentality ties your child’s esteem to things that are unreal, and sets a potentially dangerous precedent in their future approach to money management.  Respect your budget, get creative, and remember that sometimes the simplest approach is the most effective.
    • Location:  Lots of guests in a tiny indoor living space is a recipe for disaster, no matter what their age.  It will be much easier to host a larger crowd in a larger space such as a park, gymnasium, or large back yard.
    • Your Time and Energy Level:  Don’t. Underestimate.  Anything.  Ever.  Sure you’re going to meet that drop-dead work deadline, be back in time to clean the house, do the shopping, put up the decorations, bake a cake, prep the party fare, actually take a shower and look like June Cleaver by the time the guests arrive 24 hours from now.  Mmmmm-hmmmm…..  Be kind to yourself; save your sanity and understand that there are many ways to make a celebration special.  Look for the solution that allows you to gracefully get to the point of it all:  celebrating the birthday boy/girl.


What about the kids who didn’t get invited?

Lots of parents worry about making children feel “left out” if they don’t receive an invitation to the celebration.  On the flip side, it is easy to feel like you or your child will have some explaining to do to all the other folks who were not on the list of invitees.  This is not fun for anybody, and sadly, it can turn into a political tit-for-tat on the part of children and parents alike.  But there are ways you can minimize or avoid these situations:

Bring treats to the classroom / team.  Approach your child’s teacher/coach and ask if you can bring a special treat for the whole class/team to share.  Sometimes a couple of pizzas and some juice go a long, long way towards making everyone feel included, and it teaches your child that giving is usually even more fun than receiving.

Be discreet.  If you’re having a smaller party, teach your child the art of discretion and consideration for others’ feelings.  Some children will see their party- or their invitation to a party – as an opportunity for a power play; teach them early-on that this isn’t the right approach.


What information should be included on the invitations?

Online services like make sending invitations paperless and easy.  Should you choose to send invitations through the mail, they should include the following information;

–         The type of party being given;

–         For whom the party is being given;

–         Date (include the day of the week and the date!);

–         Time (give both a specific start time and end time, and if your event requires a very specific start or pickup time, such as at a theater, include the word “sharp” after the times.  If you’d prefer parents not to stay for the party, simply insert the words “drop-off” and “pick-up”prior to the requested times;

–         Location (include the complete address, name of the facility, if applicable, and directions or cross-streets if there’s room);

–         Contact telephone number at your home or at the venue, and your cell number.

–         Suggested attire:  Will their child need a swimsuit and towel?  A paint smock?  Clothes for muddy or messy activities?

–         Food provided:  This is really helpful for parents to know, especially if the party time is close to a normal mealtime.  If you’re just doing cake, specify that.  It’s also prudent to ask parents to notify you of any food allergies or other special needs their child may have when they RSVP.  Better safe than sorry!

–         Specify how you’d like your guests to RSVP, and do include a deadline of no later than about a week before the party.  The most common RSVP formats include:

      • RSVP to Dinah at [phone number] or [email].
      • RSVP by June 1 to Dinah at [phone number].
      • Kindly respond to Dinah Johnson at [phone number].
      • Please reply to Dinah Johnson at [phone number].
      • Regrets only, to Dinah at [phone number]. (Please note that “regrets only” means that you only want people to call if they cannot attend. You assume everyone else is coming.)

How to handle RSVP’s:

Most parents will RSVP by the requested date; however, sometimes things fall through the cracks and folks forget.  Don’t hesitate to call potential guests to see if they’re coming;  never assume their child won’t attend simply because you haven’t heard back.

If you’re the guest, be sure to RSVP promptly.  Your host/ess will need an accurate head count to make appropriate plans.

In the event your child has food allergies or special needs, let the host/ess know ASAP, and kindly offer to bring something to accommodate your child.  Be sure to bring enough for others to sample!


What is the best time for a children’s party, and how long should it last?

”For babies and toddlers up to three years old, when naptime is still a consideration, a one-hour party is long enough. When children are four to seven years old, plan on one and a half hours for the party. By the time children are eight to eleven years old, they can easily handle a two-hour party. Children twelve and up can entertain themselves to some extent, so they will likely want an evening party or sleepover.

The best time of day to have a baby or toddler party is probably 10:00am–11:00am. This lets you work around nap time, and is long enough for some free play and cake. As children get older, parties are usually from 1:30pm–3:00pm or 2:00pm–4:00pm. This gives plenty of time for games, snacks, and cake.” (

If you would like parents to stay at the party as chaperones:

The general rule of thumb is that parents should stay to chaperone their child if they are under the age of five. Feel free to make your need for assistance clear by adding wording on the invitations asking that the invited child come with one parent. Be sure to confirm the parent’s attendance when he/she RSVP’s.
How to address the invitations/envelopes:   Address each invitation to the person being invited. If you’d rather little Mary attend without her brothers and sisters, simply address the envelope to Mary Johnson.   If you look forward to having an entire family attend, address the invitation to “Mary Johnson and Family”, or to “The Johnson Family”.  The words “Siblings Welcome” inside the body of the invitation works, as well.


On the subject of party games and activities:

The biggest rule of thumb here is to let the children set the pace of the party.  You may have a lineup of the most fantastic games the world has ever known, but the fastest way to ruin a good party is to force kids to play them.  More often than not, you’ll find party-goers completely engrossed in simply playing together.  However, it’s always good to have some planned activities or crafts ready to go in the event of an impending meltdown.
What about competitive party games?

“Laurie Wrigley, founder of Birthday in a Box, adds this great advice:

“On the subject of competition, I think that children four and under are probably too young for competitive games in which there is a single winner or players are eliminated. While most may be able to handle it, there may be one or two who cannot. Instead, I would advise that each young child be given a participation prize or be made to feel like a winner. For instance, with a musical game, the adult can ensure everyone wins by stopping the music appropriately. Or, if there is a broad range of ages, you may want to pair younger children with an older partner or an adult who can share in the win or loss.”

    • When planning party activities, always add two more games or crafts than you think you will need. These extra ideas will rescue you on the party day if the children finish a game more quickly than you expected. For a toddler party, it is generally accepted to let the kids play freely most of the time, so one or two games are all you will need.
    • For other age groups, plan 3-5 crafts or games if your party will last one-and-a-half hours. For a two-hour party, you will need 4-6 activities.

Don’t push the children to finish a game that they are enjoying. If you’ve hit upon a winner, the kids may want to play it again! Forget about getting through your entire list of games, and let the party flow at its own pace.” (


On the topic of behavior – and misbehavior:

Set clear expectations without being “preachy”: 

Communication and preparation based on kindness and empathy are worth their weight in gold.  Let’s face it:  kids don’t know  good party manners from a hill of beans until they’re taught.  Be a good parent: talk to your child before the party about your basic expectations, rather than chiding them for poor manners in front of their guests.  Good things to start out with include:

–         Saying hello to each guest as they arrive, even if you’re playing with someone else;

–         Being friendly to everyone;

–         Saying “Thank You” to each guest for the gift they brought;

–         Saying “Thank You” and “Goodbye” to each departing guest.


A great way to prepare children for social success is to play-act with them.  Like anyone, children learn more from and are better able to appropriately react to situations or personalities they’ve previously been exposed to. Try to teach through illustration; turn into the infamously evil Nelly Olson from Little House On The Prarie for a few minutes.  Then turn into the much more kind Laura Ingalls, and let your child decide which personality she would prefer to emulate.  This is a fun way to offer a gentle behavioral reminder during the party, too.  If your child shows signs of veering in the wrong direction, all you have to do is ask, “My, did I hear Nelly in the room?”  No one else will have a clue as to what you’re talking about, and your child will get the message without feeling put on the spot.  Furthermore, if your child happens to have unwittingly invited a “Nelly” to the party, that little code word can go a long way to let them know that you are seeing the offending behavior from the guest and that your child is not alone.


Managing the Meltdown:

Birthday parties are huge, overwhelming things for children.  The excitement and anticipation builds up for weeks beforehand. On the day of the event, sugar mixes with all that adrenaline like a powder keg waiting for the opportunity to explode all over the place and the chance of a complete emotional meltdown is drastically increased for child and parent alike.  Just remember:


–         Keep your cool.  Your job is to calm your child down and get him/her back to the party as quickly as possible.  Sometimes that may entail your needing to move them to a quiet, secluded area for a bit until they calm down.  Just explain to the other party goers that Mary needs a quiet minute and quickly divert their attention by starting up a new activity or game.  Mary will come around quickly enough, and when she does, welcome her back and get her into the activity quickly and seamlessly.

–         Master the art of redirection. Sometimes your guests will be the ones with the behavior issues.  It’s always a good idea to have another adult at any party to help out; if the misbehaving child’s parent is in attendance, feel free to ask him/her to help the offending child through their issue.  If you’re the one who has to step in, try to stay positive.  Try not to make the child feel as though you’re attacking him/her; simply say something like, ‘It’s been a big day, hasn’t it?  Why don’t you come with me and we’ll get you something cool to drink?”  At this point, offer something sugar-free, like a glass of milk or water.

If wild and unruly behavior is the problem, try enlisting the child’s assistance in helping you set up for the next activity.  Usually a newfound sense of purpose will turn even the most out-of-control kid into a prince/ss.  However, if the child is just being plain mean to others, do not hesitate to contact his/her parents if the situation seems to be beyond your control.


On the subject of Gifts:


Should gifts be opened during or after the party?

The debate rages on as to whether it’s best to open gifts during the party or leave them until after the guests have departed.  A good rule of thumb is to base your decision on the size of the party; if you have fewer than ten, it’s a good idea to open them during your event.  However, during larger gatherings, the process of opening gifts can be a bit boring for the guests.  Follow your gut.


There is a chance that your child might be crushed if they don’t have the chance to see the recipient open their carefully-chosen gift.  If you think this is the case, general consensus says you should speak up, and ask if the host/ess would mind if the recipient opened the gift prior to your child’s departure.


Sometimes, simply structuring the party so that gift-opening is left for last ensures that everyone has a great time, and all the bases are covered.


No matter which direction you go, be sure to make a list of all the gifts and note who they came from so that Thank You Notes can be sent accordingly.


What if the invitation requests “no gifts”?  Shouldn’t I still bring something?

“No gifts” means NO GIFTS.  To bring something to the event might embarrass the host and the other guests, alike.  If you feel you must give the birthday boy/girl a special something, do it at another time and place.



And, finally, on the subject of Thank You Notes:


Yes, they are absolutely, 100% necessary.  Explain to your child how his/her friend took the time to choose a nice gift, and, even if the gift wasn’t a favorite, or was a duplicate, the friend should still get a “thank you” for his time and consideration.  The note doesn’t have to be long; it should, however, thank the giver for coming to the party, mention the gift and say something nice about it.  Thank you notes are best written right after the event; however, try to send them no later than two weeks after the party.


Here’s to many happy Birthday  Bashes for years and years to come!

Posted July 19th, 2011.

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Keep It Classy – The 101 On Picnic Etiquette

by Danica Waters

There’s something about Nature that inspires people – in all sorts of odd ways.  We’ve all seen it:

There’s the co-worker who, because it’s a hot summer day, decides to sport his Speedo at the company picnic;

There’s the beer-swilling bunch at the next picnic table who decides everyone  for miles around should know and respect their speed metal screamo mixtape…

…of course this same bunch believes that empty beer cans are best left strewn on the ground and that swearing loudly in front of your children is an undeniable sign of manliness;

There’s the couple who insists on sharing their undying passion for each other with the rest of the world by publicly swapping spit for hours on end;

Oh, and of course there’s the family of ten who, after having RSVP’d to your invitation and volunteering to bring chips and sodas, shows up with a single bag of Lays and a six-pack and then makes sure their herd is the first to the trough;

There’s the folks who decide that, since the great outdoors is free space and open to everyone, they are free to invite their friends to your event with no notice whatsoever;

There’s the parents who figure they’re due a good time like everybody else and therefore they rely on everyone else at the gathering to watch their uncontrollable kids;

There’s those that systematically show up late and then leave early – being sure to meticulously hunt down and take all their leftovers in the process, and never ever helping to clean up one tiny little bit;

There’s the folks who think it’s ok to leave a picnic table covered in food smears and spills because it’s no longer their problem;

There’s those darn people who insist on setting up their tag football game right next to your picnic spot, clearly not caring who or what they trample in their wake…


Eeeeesh.  The list goes on and on.

Here’s some friendly tips on how to behave when you’re dining in the Great Outdoors:


Shared space is exactly that:  shared space. 

You don’t own it.  It shows well to behave appropriately and with extreme consideration for others.

Unless it’s a crowded park or beach area, as a rule most people prefer lots of space between you and them.  It’s best to be respectful and keep your distance when at all possible.  After all, the wild blue yonder is deep and wide; there’s plenty of room for everyone.

Gauge your activities, behavior, conversation and tone of voice on the following:


Are there people close by?

Everyone might have a better time and feel a little more free to be themselves if you choose a site away from others.


Are they in earshot of your conversation?

Consider the words you choose, your tone of voice, the volume of your laughter, the subject of conversation, etc. accordingly.

No matter how public a space might be, it’s just plain rude and ignorant to subject strangers to your personal conversations, no matter what the topic happens to be.   Off-color jokes, topics, and foul language should be treated with even more care.  If you think your party will end up heading in this direction, simply choose a site away from everyone else, be yourselves, and have fun!

As a general rule, most people come to enjoy the peace and quiet of the outdoors.  It’s best to enjoy your music at home.


Can you see them?  Can they see YOU?

Curtail any rude gestures or questionable body language if someone outside your immediate party can see you.

While everyone in your party might be accustomed  to seeing your sweaty beer belly at friendly family functions, rest assured the folks at the next picnic table are best left unexposed to your “endowments”.  Please keep your shirt on.

You might be experiencing the most romantic picnic the world has ever seen. If that’s the case, well, good for you!  But please, if you simply cannot control yourself and feel you have no choice but to demonstrate your overwhelming passion for eachother, do it in a place where no one else has to watch.  (Ahem!  Get a room!)   Here’s a different way of thinking about it:  If you happen to find yourselves in the company of strangers who appear to be enjoying watching you and your loved one “get it on”, you’d be smart to be concerned.  Be very concerned.

Set up any games away from others’ space.  Sorry, but badminton birdies and potato salad just don’t get along.  And be extra-aware of any small children who might have wandered into your game – nothing will spoil a good time faster than an injury.


If you’ve been invited to a picnic:

RSVP promptly

Ask what is going to be served and what you can bring to help out.  It’s a good idea to ask how many others will be coming so you can plan to bring enough.

If you’re a vegetarian and the main course is to be hamburgers and hot dogs, ask the host/ess  if  he/she  minds if you bring a vegetarian option to supplement.  It’s highly unlikely you’ll get an objection, and you just might have helped your host/ess  avoid a potentially embarrassing situation.  The same principle applies to folks with food allergies.  Even if you’re darn sure you’re the only vegetarian/allergic person in the bunch, bringing only enough of something for yourself looks stingy.  Be sure to bring enough for others to sample, as well.

It’s best to at least offer to come early to assist with setup; it’s always a good idea to stay to clean up, as well.

Be sure to label the bottom of any food container or serving platter with your name; in the event you leave the dish in its container for others to enjoy, it will make it far easier for the host/ess to get it back to you.

If you’re bringing a dish that requires a serving utensil, be sure to provide the required utensil.

NEVER bring others who are uninvited to any gathering without asking the host/ess well in advance.

Even if your host/ess assures you that everything’s covered, never show up empty-handed.  At the very least, bring some extra water bottles or a box of chocolates to share.

Remember to leave your picnic site better than you found it; you’ll make someone else’s day by leaving a super-clean table and picture-perfect site.

Keep It Classy! 

Feel free to submit any additional tips or rules of picnic etiquette through the “Contact Us” form here.

Posted July 12th, 2011.

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Etiquette Gone Bad = Fairy Tales Gone Awry: Heidi Withers and Carolyn Bourne

By Danica Waters

Once upon a time, there was a girl named Heidi Withers who fell in love with a boy named Freddie Bourne.

Heidi Withers, image copyright / source: The Daily Mail

Freddie Bourne/ image copyright chris eades / source: The Daily

Heidi had always dreamed of getting married in a castle, and even though her parents had recently become unemployed and could not afford to bankroll her dream, Freddie and Heidi kept their hopes high.  And thus it came to be that the great hall of Berkeley Castle in Gloucestershire became available for booking at a relatively reasonable price, and an October wedding was arranged.  The couple was ecstatic.

Before they were to be married, Freddie took his bride-to-be to his childhood home in the rolling hills of Devon to visit his father and his (evil?) stepmother.   Unfortunately, the visit was not the happy affair everyone had hoped for.   Alas, even though the bride-to-be seemed a sweet girl, she did not have the knowledge or etiquette-related sensibilities her future in-laws expected.  Afterwards, the evil stepmother sent a scathing e-mail to her future daughter- in- law:

“from: Carolyn Bourne
to: heidi withers
subject: your lack of manners

Here are a few examples of your lack of manners:

When you are a guest in another’s house, you do not declare what you will and will not eat – unless you are positively allergic to something.

You do not remark that you do not have enough food.

You do not start before everyone else.

You do not take additional helpings without being invited to by your host.

When a guest in another’s house, you do not lie in bed until late morning in households that rise early – you fall in line with house norms.

You should never ever insult the family you are about to join at any time and most definitely not in public. I gather you passed this off as a joke but the reaction in the pub was one of shock, not laughter.

You regularly draw attention to yourself. Perhaps you should ask yourself why. No one gets married in a castle unless they own it. It is brash, celebrity style behaviour.

I understand your parents are unable to contribute very much towards the cost of your wedding. (There is nothing wrong with that except that convention is such that one might presume they would have saved over the years for their daughters’ marriages.)

If this is the case, it would be most ladylike and gracious to lower your sights and have a modest wedding as befits both your incomes.

One could be accused of thinking that Heidi Withers must be patting herself on the back for having caught a most eligible young man. I pity Freddie.” ( Shine for Yahoo! News)

Heidi was shocked, and she forwarded the e-mail to all of her friends, who were also so shocked that they felt they must forward it to all of their friends, as well, so that they could be shocked, too.  Soon, news of the shocking e-mail spread far and wide across the land,  and it was learned by all that the e-mail also said:


“It is high time someone explained to you about good manners. Yours are obvious by their absence and I feel sorry for you.

…Your behaviour on your visit to Devon during April was staggering in its uncouthness and lack of grace.”

…If you want to be accepted by the wider Bourne family I suggest you take some guidance from experts with utmost haste. There are plenty of finishing schools around. You would be an ideal candidate for the Ladette to Lady television series. Please, for your own good, for Freddie’s sake and for your future involvement with the Bourne family, do something as soon as possible.”

The email said Miss Withers’ behaviour had been so rude that it had left the family dog, Bomber, traumatized, depressed and anxious.” (The London Telegraph)

Enraged by the attack, the clan of the bride-to-be responded in kind:


Alan Withers / image copyright swns / source:

Yesterday the father of bride-to-be Heidi Withers hit back, branding Mrs Bourne a ‘snotty Miss Fancy Pants’.

In the stinging repost, Alan Withers, 64, said the renowned horticulturist ‘has her head stuck so far up her own a*** she doesn’t know whether to speak or f**t.’” (Read more:


And thus blew the winds of war.  (No pun intended.  Really.)  Battle lines were drawn; some sided with the offended Mother-In-Law and poor Heidi was internationally blasted for what appeared to be a serious breach of etiquette on her part.  But out of the dust and turmoil that accompanies bad manners and poor reporting, it was revealed that only part of the e-mail had been widely circulated.   Indeed, it came to light that there was a whole lot more to the story, and the stepmother was, after all, the party with the greater lack of manners, for within the belly of her smouldering e-mail came the following:

It is tragic that you have diabetes. However, you aren’t the only young person in the world who is a diabetic.

I know quite a few young people who have this condition, one of whom is getting married in June. I have never heard her discuss her condition.

She quietly gets on with it. She doesn’t like being diabetic. Who would? You do not need to regale everyone with the details of your condition or use it as an excuse to draw attention to yourself. It is vulgar.

Carolyn Bourne / image copyright / source

As a diabetic of long standing you must be acutely aware of the need to prepare yourself for extraordinary eventualities, the walk to Mothecombe beach being an example.

You are experienced enough to have prepared yourself appropriately.” (




Hold on there, Bessie.  Heidi’s a diabetic? And you didn’t think to qualify whether or not she had dietary restrictions or physical limitations prior to her visit? Hmmmm….


Etiquette isn’t about being a “fancy-pants” or about giving yourself -or anyone else – an excuse to be judgmental or ‘hoity-toity’.  It’s about thoughtfulness.  If you happen to be the host/ess, it’s about making others feel welcome and comfortable no matter what.   If you happen to be the guest, it’s about respecting the host/ess and showing common sense and basic courtesy.  And always, it is best to be in-the-know about how to handle yourself in unfamiliar situations.  Alas, etiquette gone bad = fairy tales gone awry.

Posted July 1st, 2011.

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How To Eat At A Buffet Table

by Danica Waters

There’s nothing worse than being stuck in a situation where you have no idea what you’re supposed to do:

Here’s a few standard rules for navigating a buffet table:

Check It Out Before You Approach. Usually taking a few minutes to assess the layout of the buffet table and the queue will provide you with enough information for you to proceed with confidence.

Don’t Feel Weird About Asking For Help.
If you still feel uncomfortable, there is nothing wrong with asking the waitstaff for a little direction. Trust me: if you’re confused, there’s several more folks around you who are, as well. Sometimes asking for assistance ends up helping others around you.

The Utensil Dilemma
Keep an eye out for utensils, and be sure to get them your first time through the line. Hopefully, the utensils will have been located at the end of the buffet table so you don’t have to juggle them along with your plate. Sometimes the utensils will be laid out on the dining tables, so you won’t have to worry about carrying them. Just be aware.

Line Etiquette
I don’t think I have to tell anyone this, but then again… Allright. I’ll bring out my “mom” voice. When you must stand and wait your turn in line, WAIT YOUR TURN. Don’t butt in front of others, don’t huff and puff and whine about how hungry you are, even if the line is moving slower than molasses in January. Maintain your composure.  Respect others’ personal space – don’t bump into folks around you or look over their shoulder or think you can hurry them up if you move in a little closer and breathe hard down their neck.  It won’t make them speed up.  It will make them think you’re an ill-mannered so-and-so.   Don’t make fun of the people around you, or of the choices they make at the buffet table.   That’s just so mean.  And even if you happen to absolutely detest something being served up, the world does not need to know about it –  DO NOT EVER COMPLAIN ABOUT THE FOOD. (Oh, Good Lord, the Mom Voice has taken over!!!!  I can’t help myself…… yiiiiikes!!!!!) “Keep your hands to yourself. Stand up straight. And for heaven’s sake, don’t stare”. There. I’m done now.

Filling Your Plate
The great thing about buffets is that there’s usually a ton of different things to try. You might have your pick of several different types of cuisines, along with multiple salad and dessert offerings. How you approach this is important, as there’s nothing worse than sitting next to someone who’s loaded up their plate with enchiladas which are sandwiched next to a pile of mashed potatoes with gravy that happens to be pooling underneath the strawberries-‘n-cream jello mold that’s wobbling next to some sort of cheesy spinach dish that’s next to those darn enchiladas. Heartburn, anyone? Here’s what you need to know:

– It’s best to take little portions at a time. Pyramids are best left in Egypt, where they belong.

– Buffets are designed for multiple trips. Concentrate your selections on one type of cuisine at a time. (i.e. – don’t combine your tabbouleh with the Swedish Meatballs, please)

– When you re-approach the buffet, be sure to leave your dirty plate(s) and utensils for the waitstaff. Don’t bring them with you. Get a new, fresh plate each time you go up.

– If you decide to re-approach the buffet table, leave your napkin in the seat of your chair rather than on the table.

– If you’re dining at a restaurant or hotel, it is perfectly acceptable to ask the waitstaff to replenish any depleted offerings. However, if you’re at someone’s home, it’s not a good idea to do this, as it might create an embarrassing situation for the host/ess.

– As you serve yourself, remember that the serving utensils should never be placed back in the serving dish. Rather, they should be placed on a tray to the side or in front of the dish. Sometimes, though, (especially in private gatherings) the host/ess will not have made this accommodation, in which case you should “go with the flow”. And NEVER use your fingers to serve yourself.

– Don’t eat in line. And no taste-testing…

– If you happen to be overtaken by the urge to sneeze or cough while in a buffet line, please turn away from the food and cover your nose/mouth!!!!!

– When you return to your table, it’s not necessary to wait for everyone else to return to the table before you start eating. However, it’s considered polite to wait for at least a few people to return prior to beginning.

– Last but not least, it is considered extremely inappropriate to ask for a doggie-bag or other type of take-away container when eating at a buffet.

I’m sure there’s more, but these tips are the most universally-accepted as “things you need to know” about eating buffet-style. And I’ve worn out my “Mom Voice”. Good Luck!

Posted June 7th, 2011.

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How To Set A Formal Table (Just In Case You Need To Know)

by Danica Waters

It’s June! Wedding season is upon us. Mark my words: we are walking into of one of the biggest etiquette traps of the year. What do I mean by an “Etiquette Trap”? Imagine: you receive a beautiful wedding invitation. You happily RSVP. You attend the wedding, and afterwards the reception, which happens to be a very formal sit-down, multiple-course affair. You look down at your place setting, and there are, like, three or four of everything: forks, knives, glasses! What on earth do you do with all of it? What do you use first? Eeeeesh. It occurs to you that you shouldn’t have been laughing at Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman as your very own oyster threatens to go zinging across the room.

This is the season where many of us will be confronted with a formal table. While you may not be the person setting the table, you just might be the person needing to negotiate your way intelligently through all the utensils set for a formal multiple-course meal. Understanding the layout of the various plates and utensils will work wonders for your personal panache, or, at the very least allow you to “fly under the radar”.

I lucked out when I discovered this video; it is by far the most comprehensive, well-paced and interesting one I’ve seen. As a note, there’s some differences in opinion as to where to position the “oyster fork”. As long as you know what an “oyster fork” is, you’ll know what to do with it when the time comes.

Good luck!

Posted June 1st, 2011.

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