As Debrett’s launches etiquette classes for children, Kate Freud puts it to the test with her five-year-old son, Jago
Though the joys of parenthood far outweigh the tricky bits, there’s no doubt raising children is a minefield. Once you’re safely through the nappy years, it’s on to the daily tussle of getting them dressed and out the house, doing their homework, eating their greens and going to bed on time, all the while trying to shape them into well-rounded, polite human beings. I spend a staggering amount of my life trying to teach my children not to use potty humour, pick their noses or forget their manners. I often hear myself and inwardly cringe with the incessant, ‘what’s the magic word?’
Clearly not the only one feeling the pressure, I’m interested to learn that Debrett’s – the inimitable authority on social skills and etiquette since it was founded in 1769 – has launched a Cygnet school to help children ‘develop confidence and ensure social ease, charm and grace.’ I book straight in.
A lady called Catherine arrives on a Tuesday afternoon to work her magic on Jago and his friend Monty. Apparently children respond better when there’s another child present, but after a long day cooped up in the classroom, the boys seem more excitable than usual and I’m nervous for poor Catherine.
She explains the classes are “fun, play-led sessions to help them start to gain social awareness, improve empathy and build self-confidence.” Catherine begins by getting the boys to walk into the room in different ways – as monsters, superheroes and princes – and asks them what they think of each and why. She then explains about posture and body language and how to read it, and how this can actually speak louder than the words you say. It’s fascinating to watch these two little boys, both shy and awkward at first, transform before my eyes, with their chests puffed up and heads held high, especially when channeling their inner superheroes.
Catherine then goes on to teach them the importance of a strong handshake and eye contact, and how all these things can help you make new friends. Though the boys are playing and enjoying the class, you can see they are taking it all in (and trying to make their handshakes as manly as possible).
The class evolves into how to manage your nerves, as shyness can often be interpreted as rudeness, and then how to talk amongst adults, and how it’s important not to forget to listen. The boys do the sweetest role play, while practising a new breathing technique they have learnt to handle their nerves. They talk about Lego, school and football, with not a mention of potty humour at all. The boys also rehearse sitting at a dinner table – to this day, I’m berated every time my elbow gets anywhere near it. The session ends with Jago saying an emotional goodbye to Monty, which includes curtseys and kissing each other’s hands, something I’m not sure they learnt in class but they seem to be taking quite seriously nonetheless.
Three months on and considering a year ago Jago was shy to the point of rudeness with strangers, I’m impressed with the change I see in him. He now hugs people when he is pleased to see them (we’re not really a handshake kind of family), looks them in the eye and answers questions politely. The pleases and thank-yous trip off the tongue, and despite the occasional poop joke and a little light nose-picking, he’s become really quite charming.
Priced at £780 for a one-to-one two-hour class may seem a steep price for encouraging your child to be more gregarious and gracious, but perhaps see it as an investment for when they ace that first job interview…
0203 786 7420, debretts.com