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Finding Your Manners When You Are MAD

As an etiquette consultant I’m often asked what age I start teaching students. I offer classes starting at age four but teaching good manners starts at home right out of the womb.

While I wasn't focusing on forks and thank you notes with my then toddler son and my baby girl, now 9 months, I was keenly aware of my behavior towards them and my peers. Children are much more likely to do as you do than as you say. So as parents we have to lead my example. Since these foundations of life skills start in the home this means that children will learn their social skills by watching how you behave with fellow family members.

My husband and I say “please” and “thank you” to one another. We make eye contact regularly. Well, at least we try and therein lies the challenge.

Parenting is a full time taxing job full of highs and lows. There are moments and, sometimes days, where I’m impolite and snappy to my partner. There are evenings where I raise my voice and rude things come flying out of my mouth. And in front of the children. I’ve slammed doors, teared up and used “bad words”, as my son would point out.

Seconds later inevitable regret washes over me. Why could I have not handled that better? Why wasn't I more articulate?

Why not? Because this is real life. Not every moment in front of your children can be sanitized, polite and rated G. Arguing in front of a child isn't always wrong. It shows that even parents are human, make mistakes and get upset the same way a child does. Coping mechanisms as adults can be akin to a toddler break-down in the grocery store.

However, instead of protecting your children by pretending a disagreement hasn't occurred or changing topics right away you should acknowledge these challenges with a display of problem solving with your partner and an age appropriate conversation with your child. Make it a teachable moment.

Children need to learn problem solving and conversation skills. If we, as parents, run from confrontation, then our children will be done a disservice thinking that they can’t voice their concerns and stand up for what they believe in. Alternatively, if we just yell and push our views to exhaustion, we don’t teach children valuable listening skills and that there are two sides to every story. A future bully might be born out of these environs.

When words get the better of you and your partner try these tips to work towards resolution and show your children how to manage conflict.

When you’re headed for an argument, count to five or 10 to prevent an outburst. You may still be angry but your tone of voice and words might be tempered thus received better.

Speak with your child. Try: “Mommy and Daddy sometimes don’t agree about ___ but we still love each other” or “I’m sorry we used loud voices in front of you. Mommy got mad and I’ll talk with Daddy about it to make it better.” Depending on how serious the argument and the nature of it, reassure your child that they are not at fault and they are loved and safe.

Ask your partner if you can find a time to speak about your disagreement when you are both calm and collected (and potentially away from the children). Scheduling a conversation has worked wonders in my relationship.

Apologize to your partner and in front of the children even if it’s not your fault and no resolution has been found. Try: “I’m sorry we’ve argued. Let’s continue this later” or “I apologize for raising my voice.”

There’s no perfect relationship and certainly no perfect way to handle an argument but there are rules of etiquette to help guide you once you find yourself in a quagmire. Practicing them in front of your children sets an example of conflict resolution, tools your child will benefit from for years to come. It also exhibits respect towards your partner and that you are equals.

Every parent wants their child to have good manners. By circling back to etiquette in a variety of scenarios they will grow up to be not only polite but empowered and engaged citizens.

Bizia Greene owns the Etiquette School of Santa Fe. Send your comments and conundrums to or 988-2070.

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