Dear Annie: A few months ago, someone wrote to you about how uncomfortable the bad manners of children of a relative made her feel at large family gatherings and dinners. I read your column faithfully and did not see any readers’ suggestions printed in the following weeks.
Of course, large family gatherings have not happened this past year due to the pandemic. But we will return joyfully to them, probably toward the 2021 holidays. The writer mentioned that another family in attendance displayed commendable behavior. That presents a golden opportunity, and I would offer her this suggestion: Compliment those well-behaving children in front of all assembled at the table. Compliment the parents of those children. No matter how rude the other children are, ignore their bad behavior. But watch for good behavior from them, and compliment them immediately if and when it occurs. Attention-seeking in bad ways should not be rewarded.
— 81 Years Wise
Dear 81 Years Wise: You certainly are 81 years wise. Praise has all sorts of benefits for children. It helps build a positive self-concept and can keep a child on track for the task at hand. Good table manners are an important part of teaching your child how to behave in public, but providing extra praise for the behaviors you want to increase is proven to work.
My only advice is to be careful not to shame the children who are behaving badly, and your suggestion to ignore the rude behavior sounds perfect.
Children need attention, so by giving them attention when they are behaving nicely, you are encouraging that. Bravo!
Where to write: Send your questions for Annie Lane to firstname.lastname@example.org.