Marie-Chantal: Manners Matter

With kids spending more hours at home during the pandemic, it’s a perfect time to instill good etiquette in our young ones.
Marie-Chantal portrait by Ungano & Agrodimas

By Princess Marie-Chantal of Greece

Teaching children manners and modeling good behavior is more important today than ever. I do believe it is our responsibility as parents to teach our children a set of healthy tools to ensure that they become the adults we want them to be. Empathy, compassion and politeness are a must in this world of COVID and divisive politics.

In my book Manners Begin at Breakfast: Modern Etiquette for Families, I explain that children are confronted with change on a daily basis, which is essential to character development but can also be stressful. Therefore, establishing routines and traditions offers children what they need most: structure and a sense of stability. Children love their routines and setting these structures early on when they are young. Set a sense of stability and teach them healthy boundaries—even more so during these challenging times. This is especially important for children learning remotely. I’m all for setting structures around our days spent at home, as it will give young children a sense of calm.

Kids love routines, so make it fun and be creative. It’s so important to take this time to teach children skills that you might have learned from your parents, whether it’s painting, crafting, or baking Grandma’s favorite blueberry pie. It’s like storytelling, and children love nothing more than passing down family history. Teaching them a family skill makes it even more special.

Illustration by Lydia Starkey

An important routine to establish at a young age, and I make it a super house rule, is handwashing and cleanliness. Washing hands frequently and particularly before a meal is a simple task and it will become a healthy habit. We only want to pass around clean dishes during mealtimes, not diseases.

Another important habit is to keep in touch with loved ones, particularly these days, and remember the ones who live alone. Reach out—just a checking-in text is all you need. In today’s instant, digital world, where social graces have made way for social media posts, teaching children good social etiquette isa  point I stress.

This essential day-to-day human interaction is, it seems, rapidly becoming a lost art. In some small way I love that we have taken a pause in our frenetic lives, that the lockdown gave us time that we may have taken for granted, maybe we understood that certain things weren’t that important and how much being with family and our small close circle of friends really meant. Maybe this year was a year of reflection, for us all to look inward. It gives us time to really focus on what is truly important: Manners and being good people. 

Marie-Chantal, Princess of Greece, is the founder and creative director of Marie-Chantal, an international luxury children’s wear brand, and the author of the newly released book Manners Begin at Breakfast: Modern Etiquette for Families. Born in London, and one of three sisters, she spent her early years in Hong Kong before attending schools in Switzerland and Paris. Her passion and aptitude for art and design then led her to New York City, where she studied at the New York Academy of Art and New York University. Here, Purist speaks with Marie-Chantal about the importance of etiquette in childrearing. 
PURIST: How can teaching children proper etiquette set them up for a successful future? 
Marie Chantal: In my family, manners and kindness really do matter. It’s important to teach manners right from the very beginning when children are little as they pick up so much. In the end, they mirror their parent’s behavior! Parents need to remember this as it’s simple. My parents both believed in setting good rules from the start, which always started at the table in the morning at breakfast. They taught us to come to the table and say good morning, to sit up straight and of course to say our please and thank you’s. My childhood was very much an inspiration for raising my children. Once taught early it becomes second nature, and I’m a strong believer that however annoying parents can be, when we remind them of those manners, they will remember them well into adulthood.
PURIST: How can families be strengthened through practicing proper etiquette at home?

MC: Spending time together as a family is one of the best ways to establish the importance of human connection. Making an effort to enjoy mealtimes together, where you can share experiences and swap stories, is an ideal way to strengthen that family bond. In our house (and when dining out), we exercise a no-phone policy; sticking to it can be difficult but it’s worth persevering, as it allows both parent and child to engage in meaningful, face-to-face conversation – and gives parents the chance to pay more attention to how their child is behaving (and gently remind them of their manners, if required!), too. Once you’ve broken the habit, you will reap the rewards.