Thoughts of their child picking a booger, spilling gravy on Grandma's white table linens, or telling Aunt Kathy they don't like a toy she bought is enough to make most parents embarrassed -- especially during the holidays when there are extra gatherings to attend.
Etiquette experts agree that good behavior during the holidays is important, but they advise parents to focus on teaching their children good etiquette and manners daily so children can develop habits that will help them throughout life.
Ÿ Set up a dinner scenario at home to teach good dining skills.
Ÿ Before going out -- a restaurant or family gathering -- talk with your child about how they should behave.
Ÿ Develop secret signals with your child so you can remind them of manners mistakes without embarrassment.
Ÿ Buy board games and books about manners to make learning about them more fun.
Ÿ Lead by example to make good manners a habit for your child.
Etiquette teachers Patt Karubus and Kathy Strickland say it's important for parents to help their children feel confident and comfortable with their dining skills -- which are especially important during the holidays when people entertain more. Karubus and Strickland teach at Classy and Confident Kids' Academy in Lisle.
Another etiquette expert, Barbara Finney, said parents can make learning dining skills fun. For example, parents can set up a special dinner at home to teach their children things like the right way to hold silverware. As a reward, Finney said parents can take their kids to a nice restaurant. Finney, an etiquette consultant, is the founder and director of the Etiquette and Leadership Institute of Illinois in Naperville.
Strickland said every time parents sit down at the table, they can use positive reinforcement to let their children know what they are doing correctly. Parents can also develop signals (i.e. finger on ear means get elbows off the table) to correct their children's mistakes without embarrassing them, she said.
Children need to be included in greeting and saying goodbye to people especially at holiday family gatherings. Doing this helps children pay attention and respect the people they are with, Strickland said.
Carey Coppoletta and her husband, Jay, always talk with their children, Christian, 7, and Laine, 3, about what is appropriate behavior before they arrive at a restaurant or family gathering. If their children forget to say goodbye or thank you, the Wheaton mom gives them a reminder or privately talks with them about it.
"They're so little and have so much going on in their minds that it's just about refocusing them," Coppoletta said. "I'll give them a friendly reminder about how we should act and how we should be respectful of others."
Learning the ins and outs of good manners and etiquette may seem overwhelming at first, but Karubus and Strickland said it all comes down to teaching your children three things: respect, consideration and kindness.
They said it's never too early for parents to start teaching their children manners by setting a good example for them.
"These kids are going to learn by watching adults around them," Strickland said. "As a parent you have to be conscious of what you do and say. Those little people are watching you every single minute. You should act the way you hope they would act."
Coppoletta has not considered putting her children in an etiquette class before, but she and her husband value the importance of manners and incorporate it into their parenting style.
"I would say that in parenting we feel that leading by example is the most influential way of teaching them how to treat others, and just taking the time to be a considerate person and using manners ourselves," Coppoletta said.
Finney said manners are important and can affect a child even when they reach adulthood. For example, a person with a good handshake and posture at a job interview could appear more self-confident to the potential employer.
On the other hand, Finney said the most qualified employee at a corporation might be overlooked for a project because there is another employee with good manners and etiquette who is much better at interacting with people.
Karubus said parents who teach their children good manners are setting their children up to be successful in life.
"Good manners set the stage for the rest of someone's life," Karubus said. "It's really about developing a foundation for future success. It gives children the opportunity to feel confident, comfortable, and in control even when they are in strange and unique circumstances."
Karubus said etiquette classes like the ones she and Strickland teach are a way to complement what parents have already taught their children.
"We're there and we're out," Karubus said. "We're in their lives for an instant, relatively speaking. How we position ourselves is a complement to what parents do in teaching their children good manners. Parents are far more important in the process than we are."