Teaching children the basics of introductions

May 04, 2000

Several years ago, I went to the Waynesboro, Pa., home of Mary Ashe-Mahr. A chef who had a catering business at that time, Ashe-Mahr was sharing some of her recipes for a food story.

The items she prepared were beautiful, but what left a lasting impression that day had nothing to do with food.

When she answered the door, her two young sons were close behind her.

She introduced them to me, and, without any prompting, they extended their hands and said that it was nice to meet me.


I didn't have any children at the time, but I remember thinking that this is the way I would like my children to behave if someone came to our door.

I recently called Ashe-Mahr to ask her how she taught her boys, Matthew and Justin Mahr, who are now 15, to behave so politely.


She asked her boys, who are freshmen at Waynesboro Area Senior High School, but they said they don't remember any specific instruction other than being told that they had to greet people in a friendly manner.

She thinks much of what they learned came from their parents' example. Both Ashe-Mahr and her husband, Michael Mahr, are in the hospitality industry. Michael Mahr is executive chef at Grove Worldwide.

She thinks that we're all just so busy that it is uncommon for someone to maintain eye contact while giving a firm handshake.

"It should be a common courtesy. It makes a bigger impression than you realize. Look what this did," Ashe-Mahr says.

Around the same time I recalled this incident, my pastor, Ed Hampton, mentioned in his Sunday school class that we should teach our children the right way to shake hands.

I asked him several weeks later to repeat what he said in class. He says somewhere along the way, he was taught to extend his hand palm up because it is a sign of welcome. To extend your hand palm down sends the message "I am in control."

Anne Winters, executive director of National League of Junior Cotillions, explains it this way:

Palm down = dominance

Palm up = submission

Palm straight (perpendicular to the floor) = equalness, friendship

Winters, whose organization is based in Charlotte, N.C., says there are four basic things children need to be taught about introductions:

* Maintain eye contact.

* Do not be in a hurry.

* Give a firm handshake.

* Have a pleasant look on your face.

And don't forget to tell them what your mother probably told you - stand up straight and tall.

Tell us what you're trying to teach your child. We'll ask an expert for advice. Call Lifestyle Editor Lisa Tedrick Prejean at 301-733-5131, ext. 2340; write to her at P.O. Box 439, Hagerstown, Md. 21741; send a fax to 301-714-0245; or send e-mail to her at

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