Children, boys and girls alike, enjoy the tea party. The window to capture their hearts on beauty and etiquette is actually quite small, between six and ten years old. My eleven-year old boy is still going strong because I started him young. My friends and I hold tea parties for our children once a year. We invite their friends, choose a theme, and teach our children how to serve as hosts. We usually hold them in the early spring before the weather breaks because it gives us all something to look forward to while we wait for the end of the gray days. Here’s a picture from our event last year. Recognize the young Mr. Darcy?
A children’s tea party is an appropriate, fun setting to teach a few etiquette tips. Children want to learn and etiquette doesn’t come naturally. I usually keep the lesson short if I make them wait before beginning to eat and drink. If I want the lesson to go a little longer, say 20 minutes, I allow them to eat and drink while I interact with them.
Here are three simple etiquette tips you can share with the children at the very beginning of the tea party.
- Teach the children to find their seats and stand behind their chairs. This allows everyone time to gather and teaches the children to wait for others. Once the assigned host pulls out his or her chair to be seated, the others follow.
- Teach the children to pull their chairs all the way out so they clear the tablecloth when sitting and not pull it into their laps! Tell them to enter on the left. Ask them why. They’re smart enough. They’ll tell you its so they don’t bump into each other.
- Teach them to place their napkin on their lap.
After everyone is seated, invite your child host to welcome her guests. She knows about this ahead of time. Sometimes they choose to say a simple grace or just a short welcome to their friends.
Next, take a few minutes to help children know how to handle their teacups. Children especially love to fill their tea (and I do recommend you serve the real thing!) with cream and sugar. It’s good to provide them with a few guidelines.
Hold up a teacup and spoon to demonstrate. Show them how to stir tea without clinking the inside of the cup. Ask them, “Do we shake the drips off our spoon by loudly tapping the side of our cup with it” No! “Do we lick or drink our tea off our spoon?” No! “Do we slurp our tea?” No! Why not?
Because we want our event to be enjoyable for everyone and when we pay attention to these details it shows we are thinking of others over ourselves. (They probably won’t know this answer off the top of their heads. Most adults don’t either :-). )
It’s also a good idea to teach them to limit their sugar to only a lump or two per cup!
Other areas of etiquette you can take time to teach include how to pass plates (right to left, don’t help yourself first!), where to place your arms (in your lap if you’re not eating, not laying all over the table), and what not to talk about (like body functions, including animals! Can you tell I’m the mother of boys in a rural community?).
Ideally, children would grow up understanding that etiquette teaches them to think of others before themselves. The goal is not for them to become overly self-conscious, but gracious. While many manners of children need to be taught regularly, a tea party provides them great incentive for practice. And by all means, once the lessons are over, let them eat cake!