WAVERLY — Jill Evans Kryston shook hands with each child as he or she was leaving the room, reminding some to make eye contact.
“Shake with your right hand,” she corrected one boy, who had tried to shake with his left.
Another youngster tried to hand her the name tag he had peeled from his shirt.
“I don’t want this,” he told Kryston.
“Throw it in the trash can,” she politely replied.
The 14 children were students in Kryston’s “Pass the Peas, Please” etiquette class for the 4 to 7 age group at the Waverly Community House on March 16. There they learned polite table manners, beginner dining skills and behavior at the table. They practiced their skills with pastries and juice at the end of the class.
The class was the first of two that day Kryston taught, aided by community-center student volunteers Camilla Jones, 17, and Eleanor Wilson, 19, both of Waverly. Later in the day, Kryston had 20 students in the 8-to-14-year-old group in the “Dining Boot Camp for Kids” session to polish their table manners and dining skills. Both groups also used booklets Kryston provided to supplement their lessons.
Certified by the International School of Protocol, Baltimore, the Shavertown woman runs a company called Defining Manners — A School of Contemporary Protocol. She not only teaches children but instructs business professionals on etiquette and social manners, though the majority of her requests for lessons come from parents who want them for their children. Schools also request her services.
“I teach dining skills, social etiquette, communication standards — the whole gamut,” Kryston said, noting those are important for making a good impression in business and in life.
“The hardest people to reach are the older people, because of egos,” she said, adding, “Business professionals are about making an impression. If their table manners are sloppy, maybe their work is sloppy.”
The biggest etiquette blunder she sees?
“People fail to put their napkin on their lap,” Kryston said. “The younger kids, the hardest thing for them is handling utensils properly.”
She said the first group of children that day knew they shouldn’t chew with their mouths open, but she also tried to instill another no-no.
“The biggest thing is you’re not supposed to say, ‘I don’t like’ something,” Kryston said. “It hurts people’s feelings.”
Kindness, courtesy and respect are important.
“Just try something,” she urges her students.
Why can’t parents just teach their children the rules of etiquette, as well as manners, which are how those rules are applied?
“People feel that when you get a professional involved, it reinforces what parents are teaching,” she said. “Some want (their children) to have that social experience with other children. Sometimes parents focus on ballet, soccer — they don’t think about life skills.”
Jen Puksta of Waverly brought her two boys, Charlie, 10, and Nate, 8, to the second class for them to understand why manners are necessary.
And, “so that I’m not nagging them every time we go out to dinner,” she added. “So many people don’t have manners.”
Her sons conceded before the class it might not be so bad.
“I think it’s sort of cool,” Charlie said.
“I think it’ll be fun,” Nate added quietly.
When Kryston started the second session of 17 girls and three boys, most agreed with her that they had come because their moms made them; one girl even said no when Kryston asked if they wanted to be there.
But sitting at long tables set up in a U shape before Kryston, they seemed to pay attention as their instructor told them of the importance of etiquette in jobs and in life.
Kryston tried to make it fun, too, as she described the proper utensils and glasses to use and repeated a rhyme to illustrate how to eat soup without dripping it on one’s lap.
“As little ships sail out to sea, I dip my spoon away from me,” she recited.
Rosemary Malloy of Waverly, who brought granddaughters Anna and Maggie Kosierowski to the second class, said she also took her five daughters to etiquette classes at the center when they were young.
“It’s a crazy world,” she said. “It’s good children learn proper etiquette. … It’s a lost art.”