Latest News

Teach that kid some manners

Does your daughter slurp her soup? Does your son lick his plate? Are your meals filled with burping contests, tussles at the table, and "He looked at me!'' complaints?

I feel your pain.

And rest assured, we're not the only ones.

Ask moms, and they'll tell you that good manners are a must. But most kids, it seems, haven't gotten the memo.

Most parents just hunker down and focus on the basics. It's a victory when the children say "please'' or "thank you'' while keeping their elbows off of the table.

Others, fearing a lost cause, just throw up their hands in defeat.

It may be time to call in the cavalry. By that I mean, etiquette boot camp.

Suzanne Willis, founder of Mimi's Manners, is no stranger to anarchy at the table.

Willis, who started her company five years ago in honor of her grandmother, said she saw children misbehaving everywhere.

"I have seen children throw food in nice restaurants. I've seen children scream at the table. I've seen children make obnoxious sounds that should be reserved for the bathroom.''

Willis, who has taught more than 1,000 children, says manners were once passed down through generations. But in today's fast-paced society, etiquette often falls by the wayside.

"I think that in today's world, where everyone is eating on the go, and fast food is more popular than ever, there's rarely a time that you sit down for a meal with the family,'' she said.

Willis started with classes at the Ritz Carlton. Now she also offers them at country clubs and in private homes. Her typical class is limited to 20 students, age 6 to 12. She also holds classes focusing on teenagers and young professionals.

"Many children know the basics. They know the please and the thank you's, but what I find is that they listen to somebody other than parents. We talk about why manners are important,'' she said. "We talk about greetings and handshakes and introduction.''

As part of the class, Willis conducts a sit-down three-course meal. The children learn how to navigate and use the silverware. They are instructed on what is considered proper conversation at the dinner table.

Older participants are given lessons on email and cellphone etiquette.

Aventura-based Miss Katie's Charm School offers various lessons, including phone etiquette, proper posture, dining and greetings. The classes are aimed at 6- to 9-year-old girls.

The South Miami Community Center also offers an etiquette program for 6- to 17-year-old girls, with a focus on instilling self-esteem while preparing them for college.

Nydia V. Gonzalez, program services director for The Girl Scouts Council of Tropical Florida, said the group's weekend Teddy Bear Tea program draws more than 100 girls every weekend.

The program teaches the girls to respect others while overcoming shyness when meeting new people. Table manners and phone etiquette are taught while the Daisy and Brownie girl scouts get to build their own teddy bear.

Denise Brantley, mother of five whose 9-year-old Brownie went to Teddy Bear Tea, said it's important for children to learn manners.

"It builds character, I think. It shows responsibility and they love it,'' she said. "Children that age look for structure. They want structure.''

Her daughter took the lessons to heart.

"When the group came back, that's all they wanted to do. They wanted to practice what they learned, and they liked the idea that they knew how to set a table now. It was exciting to them. I've had a few parents that tell me that the girls are correcting them on several things.''

Brantley said those lessons go beyond good table manners.

"It gives the girls the tools to overcome the challenges that they face. ... The program that we have helps to improve their self-image, their self-worth.''


Girl Scout Council of Tropical Florida: 11347 SW 160th St., Miami. Call 305-253-4841, visit, or send email to

Mimi's Manners: Visit, or send email to

South Miami Community Center: 5800 SW 66th St. Call 305-668-7232.