Eight-year-old Ashley Ngeow (pictured) knows how to have soup at a formal Western meal, directing the spoon away from her in the bowl. To signal that she has finished eating, she rests her fork and knife at an angle on her plate that looks like it is 4.20 on a clock.
She learnt these rules of dining etiquette at a half-day enrichment workshop when she was six.
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Her mum, businesswoman Fion Phua, 47, wants her only child to conduct herself well. At least once a month, Ms Phua takes Ashley to the formal dinners and business functions she attends, where Ashley gets a chance to practise such social skills.
“Etiquette is something that she ought to learn from a young age. It will become a habit when she’s older,” says Ms Phua, who is married to a 51-year-old retired businessman.
It is not only dining etiquette that is taught in such enrichment classes for children. They may also receive training in social graces, such as minding their Ps and Qs, deportment and basic conversational and telephone skills.
Enrichment classes for etiquette and manners are gaining popularity, according to observers.
Ms Agnes Koh, the founder and director of Etiquette & Image International, has seen increased demand for her enrichment programmes for primary school children during the school holidays. A half-day workshop there costs $78 a child.
Ms Teo Ser Lee, the founder and director of the Protocol Academy, which provides etiquette and protocol services for adults and children from the age of five, reports a “40 to 50 per cent increase, year on year”, from 2015 to this year, for children’s etiquette programmes. A workshop she runs for a primary school-aged child typically costs under $200.
One of the factors driving the demand for manners and etiquette classes is busy parents’ dependence on professionals in some aspects of parenting.
Ms Clara Tan, founder of etiquette school Molly Manners Singapore, says: “Sometimes, parents either have no time (to instruct their children in etiquette) or they don’t know how to go about it and lack a proper framework.”
But Ms Josephine Loh, a training manager for Morning Star Community Services, which develops parenting programmes, has reservations about parents “outsourcing” such instruction.
“Children learn best from their family and their immediate social environments. When parents take on the responsibility of teaching children social skills, children learn that their parents care for and love them, as they take the time to teach them,” she says.
“Children do not need their parents to be perfect role models. They just need some time from their parents to show they care,” she says, adding that outsourcing parental tasks too frequently could affect the parents’ bond with the child.