How Etiquette Helps Your Kids Demonstrate Kindness

How Etiquette Helps Your Kids Demonstrate Kindness

At its core, etiquette is a set of skills that we use to help others feel valued. Our polite (or rude) behaviors send unspoken messages about what we cherish. If your kids could use help with being more refined or kinder to those around them, this episode with special guest Monica Irvine is for you! Visit Monica's site at The Etiquette Factory and learn about her curriculum that teaches manners. She says that purposeful parenting means creating and recognizing opportunities for our children to practice generosity, compassion, and empathy. That's what etiquette is.

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Podcast Transcript

Janna Koch (00:36):

Hi, and welcome to Homeschool Your Way. My name is Janna Koch, and I'm your host and BookShark's community manager. Today I am joined with Monica Irvine. She is the owner and creator of The Etiquette Factory. We're going to be exploring the idea of what etiquette actually means. And don't worry, you don't have to get a 16 piece silverware set in order to learn something from Monica today. We're going to make it easy and fun for you to incorporate some common etiquette in your household. Monica, thank you so much for being here.

Monica Irvine (01:11):

Thank you. Thank you for having me. I'm excited to join you.

Janna Koch (01:14):

I am excited to learn myself a little bit more about etiquette, because to be honest, it wasn't something that was taught in my home, in my mind, proper etiquette, the type of what place setting goes where and what piece of silverware. In my mind, that's what I think of when I think of etiquette. But in talking to you and looking in your program, you have a very unique definition of etiquette. Will you go ahead and share that with our audience?

Monica Irvine (01:42):

I would love to. So the definition that we use for etiquette at The Etiquette Factory is etiquette or manners, means the same thing, is helping those around you to feel valued and comfortable. So if I teach you an etiquette skill, if I cannot show you how that skill would help those around you to feel more valued or comfortable, then in my mind, it's not really an etiquette skill. And I have a lot of people over the years, I've been doing this for 15 years, and when I first started going around the country with The Etiquette Factory, depending on which side of the country I was on, I will tell you I was received a little differently.

Monica Irvine (02:32):

When I would go to Texas, they loved manners. My booth was packed. But different parts of the country, I might have gotten a few snickers, maybe some rolling of the eyes. And I think it's because people, a lot of people when you see etiquette, you just think about what fork to eat your salad with. And what I always want people to realize, it's so much more. It's helping people to just feel loved. But what I've learned is even though I believe most people wake up every morning with every intention of being kind (because I'm an optimist), I have learned that being kind requires some skills, or it's easier to show kindness the more kind skills you know. So we are all about teaching family the skills of kindness.

Janna Koch (03:27):

Monica, how did you get into the homeschool realm? Tell us a little bit about your background.

Monica Irvine (03:34):

Well, like probably a familiar story to many homeschool parents, and I kept pushing that tap away because I just didn't feel I was qualified. I just was afraid I was going to ruin my children's life because I didn't graduate from college and I just felt inadequate to do that. But honestly, I just could not ignore the constant idea to homeschool my children that kept coming into my mind, so I finally took the plunge. And it was the best decision we ever made, and it was so much fun. And it was very difficult at times, but so much fun.

Janna Koch (04:19):

So now that we have established that not only did you create this amazing curriculum that helps teach really kindness and helping others around you feel comfortable, and you're a homeschool mom yourself, why don't you share a homeschool hack with our audience?

Monica Irvine (04:35):

Oh, I would love to. So I've got several, but I'll tell you one. We decided to make lunchtime our social studies, our history time. And so we would go to the used book store and I would always buy videos, DVDs, movies about history. Or I would scan the history channels and just see what different documentaries were showing during the lunch hour throughout the week. And so my kids, most kids would love to eat in front of the TV, and so I never allowed it for dinner or for breakfast, but every single day at lunch, we watched TV while we ate. But we watched all these amazing programs about history.

Monica Irvine (05:25):

And so what I would do was I would go, literally, I would actually log into the state curriculum. I live in Tennessee, so I would go look at what are fourth graders learning about history, just to give me a general sense of kind of an outline. And then I would go just look up all of these different resources, but we would do it at lunch, mostly in front of the TV. And then we would plan field trips. We went on many field trips to Gettysburg and to Pittsburgh, and just different things that we would do after we learned a lot. And then I would find different little books that we would read out loud sometimes during the lunch hour.

Monica Irvine (06:08):

One of our favorite, I wish I could remember the name of it, but I found this really beautiful Civil War, it was a book that compiled journals from different Civil War soldiers on both sides, the North and the South. It was a whole book of their journal entries. We probably learned more about the effects the Civil War had on our country, on families, on individuals, by reading that book than anything I'd ever studied about the Civil War. But so, yeah, my hack was watching documentaries and history movies during lunchtime.

Janna Koch (06:45):

I wish I could've been in your homeschool because that is one of my favorite things to do. And I always remember when I was in public school, you could hear the wheeling of the TV, VCR, or sometimes it was the projector, and you knew, oh, good, we're actually going to watch something today as opposed to just hearing about it or reading about it. I love hitting all of those different senses when you're homeschooling because inevitably, one of those factors will connect with your child in a way that the others wouldn't have. And so it is one of the beauties of homeschooling that we can do these different things and connect on different subjects, and so that's a great hack. Thank you.

Monica Irvine (07:25):

You're welcome.

Janna Koch (07:26):

Thanks for sharing that.

Monica Irvine (07:26):

You're welcome.

Janna Koch (07:28):

I would love to delve into this idea of etiquette. And your definition was beautiful, the kindness and making people comfortable around you. When did you see the need, or how did you see the need in your own life to implement this and then create a curriculum around it?

Monica Irvine (07:47):

Yeah. So basically, I was homeschooling my youngest son. He was about nine years old, nine or 10. And we were studying the life of George Washington. And I was like all parents, my kids are great kids. I see and saw their potential, but sometimes they were stinkers. And sometimes they embarrassed me when we were out in public. And manners have always been important to me. Of course, I want my kids to be polite and kind and generous and compassionate. But they weren't always like that. Right? And so as we were studying the life of George Washington, I stumbled upon what's called George Washington's Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior, which you can Google and find this list of 110 chivalry rules.

Monica Irvine (08:38):

And basically, when George Washington was around 13 years old, his tutor at the time was encouraging him to take chivalry more seriously. And so at some point, President Washington found this book, a French book that had these lists of chivalry skills, and he copied each one. And we have a list of those skills in his handwriting, I think it's in the Smithsonian. I know it's in one of the museums. And so what President Washington said is he put those to memory. And so as me and my son were reading these chivalry skills, my heart was just really touched because they're because they're beautiful. Some of them are kind of funny. One of them, and I'm summarizing, says, "It's not polite to remove lice from your companion in public." And I was like, "Well, that's good to know." And so there were a few that were probably relevant for the time, but most of them were very still relevant today.

Monica Irvine (09:42):

And as I was reading it, I was like, "If I could get my boys, I've got three boys, to memorize these chivalry skills, maybe one a week, maybe it would benefit them." Maybe it would pop into their brain when they find themselves in the different social settings, so we started trying to do that. We started trying to memorize. We used it as copy work and tried to memorize the skills. It proved to be a little difficult, only because it's written in that old English, and they have such a wider vocabulary than we do today. So I finally decided to make my own list, a modern day version sort of, of the list, and so I did. And I did that for my kids. And so we started reading my list.

Monica Irvine (10:28):

And I'll be honest with you, I thought my boys would roll their eyes, and maybe they did a little, but what I was surprised at is how interested they were when we started learning these skills. And then I was even more surprised when almost immediately, I noticed a difference in behavior. And what I realized, and it took me a while to realize this, is I realized that most of the time when I was teaching my kids manners, it was in the moment when they had done something wrong, they had said something wrong or inappropriate, and I would be like, "Oh, honey. You can't say that. That's really hurtful to people," or, "You can't say that. That's not really appropriate," or, "You can't do that." That appears whatever.

Monica Irvine (11:21):

And so it was always kind of this, even if I tried to do it nicely, it still was kind of negative. And I realize and have learned, and I know this for sure now that when we go into that correction mode as a parent, even if we're doing it with a soft voice, it's still a correction, and nobody likes to be corrected, whether we need it or not, we don't like it. It doesn't feel good. And so what we do when someone starts correcting us is we kind of stiffen up internally. Emotionally, it's called a hardened heart, where our heart gets a little harder because we're sitting there focusing on the correction. I mean, how often do you think when you correct your kids, that your kids are sitting there listening to you thinking, "You know, Mom, you are so right. I should have handled that so differently"? Well, they just typically are not thinking that.

Monica Irvine (12:17):

They're going, "I can't believe she's fussing at me about this again. I wasn't even trying to be rude." I mean, probably that's what they're kind of saying inside their brain. And so I just learned and saw what happens when you take these manners skills, these character development lessons, and you make it part of your school day, and you talk about it when no one's in trouble, no one just did it wrong. We're just going to say, "Hey, today we're going to learn about what a real sincere apology means. What are the five steps to saying you're sorry." Or today we're going to focus on how to use your napkin properly and why it even matters. And I just was so surprised how much my kids enjoyed us talking about these things.

Monica Irvine (13:05):

And one of the things I always tell parents is, I learned to never say, "Now remember when you did this, when you told Grandma last week that she had bad breath," don't bring up past mistakes your kids made while you're talking about these skills. Just say, "Hey, Mom, Dad, you and I, we all need to be more refined. Who doesn't need to be more refined? So today, we're going to work on this skill, and hopefully we'll see how it might benefit and bless our life and those around us." And then for the most part, my kids were all in, and so that's what started The Etiquette Factory.

Janna Koch (14:41):

So as I'm listening to you explain the origins and how it has benefited your life, I have no doubt that it has benefited your sons and those people who have come in contact with him. How do you rebut the comments that maybe could be said, "Monica, we only have so much time in the day. We've got to get through all of these things, then I have to get to sports. My kids know please and thank you. Is that not enough?"

Monica Irvine (15:08):

Yeah. I guess what I would say is that, because people say that to me. They pass my booth and go, "Oh, I love it, but we've got to focus on core curriculum this year." And I just want to shake them and go, "Y'all, this is the number one core." If you don't get this right, nothing else is going to matter because getting this right, this is about teaching your children how to have healthy, happy relationships. That's all this is about because if you don't know how to communicate, how to have healthy relationships, then it is going to be a stumbling block in every aspect of your life for the rest of your life.

Monica Irvine (16:02):

Once again, so often when someone distributes what we might judge as a rude behavior, I believe most of the time, someone's not trying to be rude. They just haven't been taught that is inappropriate behavior, or they don't recognize it as such. And let me give you an example. So let's talk about table manners because everyone knows that's part of etiquette, so let's just use that as an example. So if I came over to your house to sit down and have dinner with your family, and I sat down and I started eating like a pig, I was chewing with my mouth open, I was putting too much food in my mouth, or I was making a weird smacking noise with my lips. Or maybe I sat down and ate my meal, and I was done in two minutes and you just were starting on your third bite, and I got up and said, "Oh, great food. Thanks, you all," and I left. Any of those behaviors, I would be sending an unspoken message to your family.

Monica Irvine (17:13):

And that message would be I'm just here for myself. I'm just here to fill up my belly. I really don't care if I'm making you uncomfortable. I really don't care if I'm grossing you out or if it looks like I just sat here real quick and ate, and I left you here eating alone at the table, because once again, I was just here for myself. You see, having a lack of etiquette is really about how we make people feel because if you don't care about someone's experience at the table, it's hard to not feel like they don't really care about you personally. And see, we do that all day long when we don't realize the messaging that we're sending is actually causing someone to wonder about how important we are to them. It affects our relationship.

Monica Irvine (18:10):

Same thing when our kids leave their wet towel on the bathroom floor day after day. And then what do we do? We're like, "Ben, get in here and pick up your wet towel. I'm tired of stepping over it." That's typically how we handle it. But if you were to go into Ben's bedroom and say, "Hey, Ben, you know I love you. And one thing about loving you is I want you to have a dry towel when you get out of the shower each day because it is awful to get out and have a wet towel. But one thing that seems to be happening is you're leaving your wet towel on the floor."

Monica Irvine (18:49):

And of course, your son's going to be like, "Oh, sorry, Mom. I forgot. Sorry." I know maybe you're not intentionally doing it, but let me tell you the message I'm hearing by you continually leaving your wet towel on the floor. The message that I'm hearing is that you really don't care about my time because you know I'm going to pick it up, or you don't care that I have to step over it because you really don't care about my experience. And it's sending a message that you don't really care about me. Now you know your son cares about you and that's not the message he's trying to send. So what we try to do at The Etiquette Factory is we try to help children and adults realize, let's make sure the message you're sending is what you really feel. Let's make sure those are the same because a lot of times, they're not the same.

Monica Irvine (19:43):

And so we give kids and adults a lot of examples because ultimately what I'm trying to get families to understand is whether I like it or not, or I mean to or not, all day every day, I'm sending messages about how I feel about you. And let's make sure I'm sending the messages to you that I want to.


Janna Koch (20:04):

Do you find that families ... I mean, I sit here and I'm listening. I'm like, "I 100% agree with you." But playing the devil's advocate because that's something I'm really good at, is to say that, okay, yes, maybe I'm sending a message, and yes, it's not intentional. But with everything going on in my life, how would you expect me as an adult, let alone a child, to be conscious of this as we're going through everyday life? Because I think you would agree this is something that we have lost in our society on a whole.

Monica Irvine (20:42):

I think the only way to do that is just by experience. One of the first etiquette rules I teach children is it's really bad etiquette to point out and notice other people's bad etiquette. First of all, we do not judge one another. Right? But we also don't try to see what people are not doing right. We're just worried about ourselves. I'll give you an example. One time I was reading about an incident that had happened in a grocery store parking lot, where someone, it was a newspaper thing and some fight, it happened. But someone had left their cart, didn't put it back in the cart holder, had left their cart, and it started rolling. The lady walked away and it rolled into another person's car who was sitting in her car. And then there was this big incident.

Monica Irvine (21:46):

And so of course at The Etiquette Factory, we have a shopping cart etiquette rule. And the thing is, now because I think about that, I think about how selfish it is of me to just leave my cart in the middle of parking lot and not take it somewhere where I can make sure it's not going to hurt someone else's car or cause an inconvenience for someone. And sometimes stores don't even have little places out in the parking lot, and so then you literally have to walk it all the way back into the store. But you know what's interesting is because I know etiquette, because I am constantly thinking what message am I sending, which is a habit that has to be learned and practice, I never leave my shopping cart. And it's not like, "Good job, Monica," but no matter if it's raining, no matter if it's freezing cold and snowing, and no matter how much I don't want to walk it back in the store, I just buck up and go, "You're going to do what is the polite thing to do," because I would never want my laziness to cause someone else inconvenience.

Monica Irvine (23:01):

And so once I learned that, once I read that story, and realized really what a selfish behavior that was, not judging that woman, but I wanted to be ... That is selfish for me to just leave my cart anywhere and just expect someone else to move it or whatever. I've never done it since then, but I used to do that before I read that article. And so I guess what I've learned with kids and adults is just share. Share these skills. And it's up to all of us whether we buy into it or not. It's up to us whether we want to apply these things to our lives. But what happens, the good news is today, because coming across especially young people that have impeccable manners is a little unusual, so whenever our kids start exhibiting these kind considerations, they stand out. They just do. And all of a sudden, your children are going to start getting compliments like, "Oh, my goodness, what a polite young man you are." And that's I think what helps our children start to stand a little taller.

Monica Irvine (24:14):

Parents, I know what mother and father do not want to raise honorable children. But when I ask parents, "Well, give me a definition of honor, give me a definition of an honorable person," today they kind of struggle to give me a good definition. But basically, an honorable person is someone who does honorable things. And honorable things usually require some level of sacrifice. That's what makes them honorable. You give up your seat for someone else. You go take your shopping cart back into the store. You sacrifice a little bit of yourself for others. And so I believe our society has stripped away opportunities for our children to do honorable things because we've gotten so casual. And some people will say, "Oh, those are old fashioned rules." And I'm like, "Y'all, they're not. They're timeless." They're timeless considerations to help our society be more civil.

Monica Irvine (25:22):

How many articles or news stories have you heard in the last couple years about the incivility of America? I see it. I notice it because my ears perk up, but there's a lot of stories out there now, and it's sad.

Janna Koch (25:39):

Yeah. Well, and one thing that I try to teach my girls, and as simple as being in a store, and they show me something, and they decide they don't want that, and they just go to put it down wherever we're at. And I'm like, "Excuse me. That's not where you found it." And they go, "Well, there's people paid to do that." And I say, "No, no, no, no. That's actually not their job. That's one thing extra they have to do because you leave items and articles of things that don't belong where they are. But go put that back." And they look at me, and maybe in the big picture, it didn't really matter. An employee sure will pick it up and put it back where it goes. But for them, think about someone who's working in any place of business, they're not there to pick up after you. That's not in their job description. It didn't say, "And I will pick up after Janna's kids as she walks through the store."

Janna Koch (26:34):

But the eye rolls and the inconvenience it is to my kids, and it's like, "No, I'll wait. Not a problem, not going to leave with you. Walk back the 10 feet where you found it and put it back." And I know in my heart it seems so simple, but I do believe I am teaching them to look outside of themselves. Don't just think about yourself and you didn't want it, so you put it down. Think about now you just added extra work for someone else who already probably has a lot to do. Right?

Monica Irvine (27:06):

Yeah. I mean, it's what we're supposed to do as parents. I love that you do that. What we're supposed to do as parents is we're supposed to create and recognize opportunities for our children to practice generosity, for our kids to practice compassion, empathy. It takes purposeful parenting. And the thing is, it takes time.

Janna Koch (27:33):

It's interesting, Monica, because of all the sessions that I've done, the episodes that I've done, I feel like every single one, almost 100% of the time, ends with what I need to do differently as a parent. It always starts off with what I can teach my kids. And then it's like, "Oh, there it is again, things that I could be doing differently."

Monica Irvine (27:56):

All of us, I mean, all of us. Right? That's the wonderful thing about homeschool conventions too. I always tell even my non homeschool friends, I'm like, "Y'all need to just come to these conventions because it's just so amazing to get a lot of parents together who share stories about raising their children." We haven't all done it right, y'all. We make a lot of mistakes in raising our children, but we get some things right. And as we share those experiences with one another, it helps us. It blesses us. It teaches us. I mean, who could not improve? We all could. I'm a mother of adult children. I'm still trying to learn how to be a better mother to my children. That's what we do because we love our kids.

Janna Koch (28:47):

Yeah. And I think something that homeschool has fostered for me personally is just a love of lifelong learning. So whether it be about history, whether it is about parenting, learning about etiquette and how kindness really is at the heart of it, I would love to talk about with a parent who may say, "These are antiquated," these are like you had said, old fashioned. And this isn't the type of society that we live in anymore. And yet, our society is crying out for kindness. You see it everywhere, on murals, on T-shirts, on bumper stickers, people are calling out for kindness. And maybe it's their misunderstanding of what etiquette truly is, that they kind of think that it's not necessary.

Monica Irvine (29:39):

For sure. I had a woman come into my booth once, and it's not the only time someone has made a comment like this, and she said, "Whenever I hear the word etiquette or manners, I get kind of this sick feeling in my stomach." I said, "Oh, you must've had a bad experience in connection with etiquette." And she says, "Yes." She says, "One time my mother-in-law was a very particular, is a very particular woman." And she said, "I was newly married and had just come into the family, and we were having a big dinner over at my mother-in-law's house. And I went in and asked my mother-in-law if I could help with anything. And she said, 'Yeah. You can set the table. That would be wonderful.' So she handed me dishes and I went and set the table and did it as nice as I could." And she said, "Some time later, my mother-in-law came into the dining room and she kind of assessed the table setting. And she said, 'Oh, someone's mother didn't teach them how to properly set a table.'" And then she was so embarrassed and humiliated.

Monica Irvine (30:46):

And I said, "That makes me so sad." I said, "Don't you realize that your mother-in-law broke the most important etiquette rule that there is, that you would never say anything that would cause someone to be embarrassed or humiliated?" She said, "She does not know her etiquette." And so I just think we have to be careful with ... It's wonderful to learn these skills, but I always want to remind people the purpose of learning these skills is so that you can help people to feel valued. But some benefits also are these, your children will grow in confidence. I had a mother that called me up after they went through our high school program, and she says, "Monica, I just want to thank you." She said, "I guess I'm just shocked at how this one little program has made my daughter come out of her shell and she's just blossomed into this confident young woman." And she says, "I really credit you for this."

Monica Irvine (31:54):

And what I've learned is that it's just that a lot of times when children and adults are lacking in confidence, they don't like social settings, they have high anxiety when they've been invited to go to a wedding that they know they're not going to know many people, or a shower, et cetera, it's because they have a lack of skills. Once you know what to do, once you learn how to communicate, your confidence increases, and so it opens endless doors of opportunity, And so I'm always telling parents, "Look, if you want five doors of opportunity to be standing in front of your children when they graduate from high school, or college, or trade school, or whatever, that's wonderful. But if you want them to have 500 doors of opportunity, teach them etiquette because it will open doors of opportunity. It just will."

Janna Koch (32:56):

I think that's the first time I've ever heard that. I 100% agree with it. It makes complete sense. But I don't know if I've actually ever heard that. And it again reminds me as a homeschool parent, we don't know what we don't know. Right? And so but once we do know, then we can start implementing those things into our lives through example, and then this idea of etiquette is really about effective communication. And that can help us in parenting, it can help us in interpersonal relationships. It can help us in marriages. I mean, it really goes beyond time and place and anything else because we all actually need to be more effective communicators.

Monica Irvine (33:42):

Absolutely. It really is the heart of it. And I'm like kids, I'm like anyone, if I don't see a payoff, I'm not that interested. I know maybe a higher law would be I should just want to do it because it's the right thing. But I probably am more of a natural person, and I want to see a little payoff for myself. We want our kids to feel good about themselves, not in a prideful way, but you all, we have so many kids and teenagers walking around this Earth with low self esteem, low self worth, with identity issues. And I believe at the heart of it is they have not sacrificed enough for others because you feel better about yourself when you stop looking inward and learn to look outward, but it takes practice. Parents, we have to create these lessons. And so that's what we do at The Etiquette Factory. We have created hundreds of little mini three minute, five minute lessons to just help parents and their children discuss these different skills.

Monica Irvine (35:02):

But then we put them into practice, and for instance, putting the skill of noticing. Noticing what's going on around you is a skill, but you have to be taught. Now maybe you've got a child that just was born with this incredible ability to notice things. Most of us don't unless there's a purpose, so I literally teach children, etiquette is looking, training our children to look up, and to pay attention, and to be mindful. Every day, we have opportunities to bless other people, but we've got to stop looking inward and outward, and that's what etiquette is. And so that's what we teach at The Etiquette Factory.

Janna Koch (35:50):

And we love that you're teaching it, Monica. Thank you so much for the contribution that you are giving not only to homeschool families, but I know that your services are used throughout businesses and public schools and other places where in a world that is crying out for kindness, you are a bright spot. And not only are you doing it, but you're teaching other people how to do it. You're replicating that in other people who want to learn. So I appreciate the time that you've spent with us today. Thank you so much for sharing with us and for giving us a clear understanding of what etiquette truly is, and how we can easily implement it in our day to day. Thank you so much.

Monica Irvine (36:35):

You are so welcome. It's been a pleasure. Have a great day.

Janna Koch (36:38):

Thank you, guys, for listening. Until next time, bye.