Good manners key to kids’ success |

Good manners key to kids’ success

Elizabeth Chicoine

Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., is offering a unique class. I saw a glimpse of an engineering class taking Etiquette 101 this evening on the CBS news.

Cornell is teaching the basics of etiquette in college. The course came about as a result of a study from perspective employers. What seems to be missing in otherwise well-prepared graduates is, well, good manners.

The news continued that research reveals that 85 percent of success for graduates (getting a job, keeping a job, advancement, etc.) is based on interpersonal skills.

So there you have it. The secret to your child’s success is getting down to etiquette.

Personally, I have always had this hunch, but until now, lacked any data to back up my feelings that families aren’t doing what they used to do in regard to teaching manners.

Cornell has hired an expert to come in and prepare their graduates for interacting. One intern quoted in the CBS report said a result of the course for him was that he had the confidence, poise and etiquette to interact with his superiors. He wasn’t yet going out to a five-star lunch, but certainly, he would be able to do so in any business situation.

The manners expert working with Cornell also made an interesting comment. He said that his “business is growing because of the conditions kids grow up in.”

I had to think about that for some time. Are parents remiss in teaching manners as routinely as I learned them years ago in a small Iowa town?

Yes. Definitely, yes! The entrepreneur, dreamer in me has long wanted to set up a manners and grammar school for kids in our valley.

Having taught school here and now raising my own wee ones, I see kid interactions almost daily. Our kids are missing some of what we grew up with 20 years ago or so.

The conditions for our kids are different today. We are the fast, do-it-all generation. And most don’t even consider sitting down together for a meal. Practice for this or that hobby or sport likely supercedes sit-down meals with hidden opportunities to learn social graces.

Perhaps our parental duties of work have carved into the traditional sit-down dinner, too. Nine-to-five jobs are scarce in a tourist-driven economy.

The finances and dynamics of how our parents’ generations grew up are different. One huge loss to us is the family time that we all seemed to have with our parents.

Sit-down meals, adults coming by to greet our family, it is all seemingly different.

Our parenting generation lets kids slip by adding “Ms.”or “Mr.” to an adult’s first name. Miss Elizabeth, and so on. At first glance, I kind of like this meet-me-in-the-middle approach.

Formal, yet not uptight.

But after great thought tonight, even this seems too informal. Until this day, I think of my mom’s best friend as “Mrs. Kettman.” Yes, I know her first name, but Mrs. Kettman is just a step beyond. I say it out-loud tonight, and I exude respect for this woman. The title is part of her.

Have I irreversibly goofed up my kids now by allowing the surname with the Mr./Ms. title as a way for them to address adults? According to CBS news, because of the conditions of how my kids have been raised these first formative years, will they be in need of collegiate etiquette?

I will offer this as an answer. We valley locals need to put our heads, hearts and resources together to teach basic old-fashioned, if you will, manners to our kids. Especially because of growing up in a resort town that relies on people with interpersonal skills, our kids deserve to learn the basics of etiquette.

In years past, I’ve actually researched the manners in schools in the greater Los Angeles area where I visit my sister. Flyers for manners classes appear in every coffee shop around town. Big city kids are exposed to a variety of offerings. I even called one teacher a few years ago to see if she’d like to expand her program to Vail. She was busy enough with her clientele, no thanks!

I vow not to miss the boat on what I learned from Cornell University tonight. A degree in engineering from one of the finest colleges in the U.S. won’t do a kid any good if he doesn’t know how to communicate, eat properly, look one in the eye, or dress appropriately.

Regarding my social graces, I actually had a great upbringing. My grandmother even sent me to “Ada Gaffney Shaff School of Modeling and Charm.” (I never forgot that name, honestly, how could I?) At the time, I had a pixie haircut, and the closest thing to a boyfriend was my pony, Mercury. I was an unwilling client of Ms. Ada Gaffney Shaff. Yet to this day, I thank my grandmother and parents for making me go to Charm School.

Looking back on my life, I learned social graces at a collegiate level the dog-eat-dog way. My college introduction was Southern Methodist University. I lasted one year and transferred. But I have to say, my charm school past helped me to survive a few pit-bull type attacks on my ego from some big city southern belle types.

For our kids, I have heard of “cotillion.” Fabulous! But maybe we can offer more at an even younger age. During the off-season months with all of our sensational restaurants and educated ski school teachers looking for some extra income, couldn’t we come up with a type of Vail Valley Charm School. But change the name. Charm sounds too stuffy for western slope folk, don’t you agree?

It would likely be cheaper than a college-level course on Etiquette 101, and just like learning a foreign language, the younger your brain the better. I can see it now; a kindergarten of the future would include a Spanish block and a Manners block. At such a rate, our kids might even have a chance in this globally competitive world.

Elizabeth H. Chicoine of Eagle writes a weekly column for the Daily. She can be reached at

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