Body Language and Manners

The seven year old girl down the street cocks her hip out, extends her opposing leg, tilts her head, and plays with her fingernails as she and my daughter chat. Where in the world did she learn this MOST unbecoming teenage girl posture that communicates “I don’t respect myself, and I don’t give a d*** about you”?

My malleable six year old has definitely noticed, and I can tell she is contemplating whether she is drawn to that sass posture or whether she disapproves. So I am doing what any good mother would do and brainwashing her before she has time to decide for herself.

Over the last year, we have chosen one area of manners or behavior to focus on every season. The key is making it fun and putting it in proper context. Manners failures are not sins; we observe manners in order to show respect for the dignity of others and for ourselves.

My husband and I enjoy ourselves immensely when we are demonstrating for the kids what to do and what not to do, and the kids are in stitches. Watching adults exhibit poor manners is hilarious and makes a real impression. Once we have given demos and done some practice scenarios, all we have to do is gently remind them when a manners situation is imminent.

Over the summer, we focused on how to communicate with adults–stopping when addressed, standing still, speaking when spoken to, making eye contact, using Mr./Mrs. Last Name. This is the bare minimum, even for introverted children.

We then moved into a September refresher class on table manners, to prepare ourselves for several big events in October.

We are now onto body language, especially proper standing and sitting postures. I am having to treat the sassy girl posture delicately, to discuss what it communicates and to practice standing with legs together, back straight, arms by your side or gesturing. Standing upright communicates confidence, engagement, and respect. Another big area for us right now is sitting posture for girls, that is, sitting with legs together and backs straight–my girls wear skirts and dresses often, but even with pants, their legs should be relaxed but together. Way way too many girls and ladies sit spread-eagle these days. Is that supposed to be empowering? Fortunately our school reinforces what we are learning, especially with boys’ posture. When the middle school grammar teacher catches a boy slouching around with his hands in his pockets, she sews his pockets closed, and that nips it in the bud. My children think this is a riot and totally edgy.

Very few tenets of traditional etiquette are arbitrary, even down to the small details that only Emily Post had memorized–those details smooth social interactions and honor our own dignity and the dignity of others. The Southerner in me grieves the loss of some lovely norms of etiquette that are just too old-fashioned to survive. But at minimum, my husband and I want to exemplify basic norms of manners and etiquette, so that they come naturally to our children.  I hope my girls will sit and stand with refinement, my boys will hold doors and protect ladies, my children will greet adults properly, we’ll write thank you notes before we play… and we’ll continue laughing through our family manners sessions one season at a time.






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  • Anonymous

    I love this post.u00a0 And I love the thought of you and your hubby imitating bad manners for the kids.u00a0 Perhaps you should make a video or your demonstrations?u00a0 😉

  • Drjfs71

    Why aren’t you telling your sons to sit with their legs together? Once you know the answer to this you’ll know why telling your daughters to do it is sexist.

  • Anonymous

    I agree…your demonstrations must be hilarious and really cement to the kids how ridiculous some of these behaviors are. Too often I let the fact that my child can’t sit in his chair for a meal without falling out be an excuse for not dealing with the finer points of manners, but you have inspired me!u00a0nnWe can all tell when a gentleman or lady walks into the room. I saw it often in politics. And it commands attention and respect, but does need to be cultivated.u00a0

  • Jurismater

    Cryptic challenges like yours really go a long way in facilitating discussion Dr JFS : )nnBut to be honest, I don’t really know how gentlemen are supposed to sit, or at least how to train a 5 year old boy to sit properly… I depend on my husband for that.

  • Erin Galloway Groeber

    I love this post too b/c I love etiquette no matter how seemingly antiquated!u00a0 My question is, what do you tell your 6u00a0y-o the “sassy girl posture” communicates?u00a0 And, how do you tell her thatu00a0w/out encouraging your daughter to be judgmental toward her 7 y-o friend? nnI love the idea of manners demonstrations!u00a0 How fun.u00a0

  • Kat

    JM, I hope you don’t mind if we steal your idea of role-playing good and bad manners – I think that it is one of the best ways to communicate these concepts to our children! Great post!

  • Jurismater

    Erin, such a great question, I don’t know the secret to communicating these things. I try to evaluate constantly whether I’m teaching the kids to be discerning or just intolerant and judgmental. I think emphasizing the positive is good–behaving like this communicates all these good things–instead of dwelling on bad manners and the negative things they communicate.nnI tell her the sass posture communicates “I don’t care”, and I can tell she has intuited for herself that there’s a dimension of impurity to it, but we haven’t discussed that.