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Louise Elerding: When dealing with family, use the etiquette elevator

You've got manners

Posted: March 25, 2010 10:45 p.m.
Updated: March 26, 2010 4:30 a.m.
Family celebrations, special-occasion parties and get-togethers ... do they create mayhem or magic in your house?  

It’s good to take a look at how we deal with family dynamics –  during these social, often stress-filled times.  Emotions run the gamut. Spirits are happy and soon they can be in the dumpster.

People who usually make us smile, can cause us to frown. Stress levels seem to escalate, and then we can have the most reflective, warm feelings.

If we put etiquette into this social-time equation, it might elevate our actions and keep us free of tensions and pressures.

Kind, sensitive actions will surely set a good tone within our group circle. How we can elevate the level of our interaction with family and friends, co-workers and colleagues during some social-pressured times?

Whatever the adults and parents in the family do by example will set the stage for the children in that household – for a very long time into the future.

Civility will be the key to a forever calm and joyful party atmosphere.

Elevate the climate:

If brother-in-law George is a cranky person and due to arrive at your graduation party this afternoon, set a positive tone within yourself, and then prime your children to go up to George with a happy smile when he arrives, and say “hello.” Suggest a few comments the children can say to George that will make him feel welcome:  “Hi George —  we’re glad you are here — and we baked your favorite cookies for you. Are you ready to have one?” This keeps the climate positive, and could shift the energy in the room. George may become “uncranked” before your eyes.

Being interested
is a compliment:

 In anticipation of the next social occasion, always show respect for your relatives: aunts, uncles, cousins, and extended family. Try to create an interesting experience with each person in the room, by learning more about them.

Asking questions is a compliment; it shows you are interested in that person. Find out what their latest news is, or what exciting time they’ve just had.

You may find out something fun and surprising – and this will keep the relationship upbeat.

Praise can take it from chore to charm:
When it’s time to make a visit to older, senior relatives, create the feeling among your family members that this is something to enjoy – and not a chore.

This trip may mean you and your kids are giving up something you really like to do – but put that attitude aside, and rehearse some special news or jokes you can all share that day.

Help Grandpa maneuver his wheelchair and tell him how chipper he looks that day. Share a poem or story with Aunt Margaret that will make her smile.  

It may help to set a time of arrival and departure ahead of time, so everyone knows what to expect and how to best fill that time.
Praise the children for a job well done – and parents, pat yourself on the back too for being a good role model.

Punctuality pleases:
Being punctual is such a respectful act. It minimizes tensions. Being tardy is stealing a very precious commodity — someone’s minutes or hours of a day.

Talk about the value of being on time with your family members, and then practice it with them. If you are a party guest — arrive no more than 10 minutes after the designated invitation.

Leaving on time is appreciated also.

Entertain only the positive:
TV shows have entertained us with scenarios of “in-law” relationships. In reality, we can choose to be very successful with our extended family members. Staying calm, stepping in the other person’s shoes with understanding, and not taking anything personally — will put us closer to achieving the goal of being “one big happy family” or at least one civil family.

Allow only positive comments to be spoken, and ignore any negative or rude comments; shift the topic if that occurs, and remember that emotion is commotion. Do not fuel any negative dialogue.

Pitch in:
If you are a houseguest for a few days during a holiday, be a generous visitor. Pitch in to help as much as possible with chores, or preparations of a party.

Run errands for your host if it helps them with time constraints. Do not add to their workload — but help lighten their to-do list.

Applaud and Acknowledge:
Acknowledgments during any stressful time or event are a big diffuser of tension.

Praise people for the little acts of kindness you see them doing  — bringing you a cup of your favorite tea when you’re totally exhausted, or running to the store when you’ve forgotten an important item or ingredient.

Applaud again for the bigger acts of kindness — like taking your car to be washed and detailed before you pick up guests.

Thank people for simply understanding when you feel out of sorts. Tell them something you think is wonderful about them.

Tensions can melt with this recipe.

Place your tone in ‘kindness’ gear:
Even if you do not like the relatives of your spouse or partner, you owe it to your loved one to be polite to these people.
This will go a long way in keeping feelings unhurt. You don’t have to like anybody ... just be accepting and polite. Keep the tone of your voice in “kindness” gear.

Putting all of these kind acts together — and pushing the civility elevator button to up may help in making this one of the best social seasons you’ve experienced. That’s a great gift to you and everyone else.

Louise Elerding is a manners, etiquette, and personal appearance coach, and the author of “You’ve Got Manners!” — an illustrated series of children’s books.  For information on table manners classes held at the Salt Creek Grille in Valencia, and to submit questions for the “Ask Louise” column, call (800) 326-8953 or e-mail Web site:


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