Even though a growing amount of our day to day interactions now happen through a screen, it’s still important to teach your children basic manners from a young age.
You don’t have to enroll your children in charm school of course, but a little etiquette can go a long way. Experts say that manners can teach children how to be more empathetic, which will help them to better form healthy relationships in the future.
What are “good manners”?
Good manners go far beyond the usual lessons of always saying please and thank you, or being polite at the table.
Etiquette expert Emily Post once described manners as “the sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use.” By teaching children to consider other people’s feelings and the affect that their actions can have on others, you are laying the foundation for politeness and empathy.
At the heart of good etiquette lies the concept of respect and sensitivity of others.
As a parent, you expect your child to give you respect, but you should also teach them to give that same respect to others. Be sure to correct your child when they’re not being respectful and considering other people’s feelings or emotions. A sensitive child will be sure to grow into a sensitive adult whose interactions will come from a genuine place of respect and not just from traditional etiquette rules they think they have to follow.
Please and Thank You
While some etiquette rules might be dated, saying please and thank you never goes out of style. As soon as your child can talk, they can start learning how to use words to demonstrate gratitude. Encourage your children to say please and thank you at home, at school, and in public by doing so yourself to others and to them.
While they might be too young to understand the importance of these words now, by the time they do they will have made it a habit that will hopefully stick with them for life. Studies have shown that people who practice gratitude tend to be generally happier in the long term.
Good Table Manners
You’d be hard pressed to find anyone these days who will truly get offended by someone using the wrong fork or putting their elbows on the table, but good manners while eating are still a valuable lesson that children should be taught from a young age.
By the age of three, your child should be learning to eat off a plate with a fork or spoon. Discourage food throwing, yelling, and general rambunctious behavior at the table. You should also emphasize the importance of eating at the table rather than on the go. It’s never too early to teach your kids about healthy eating and portion control as it will provide them with healthy habits later in life.
Sharing and taking turns is important for all children to learn whether they have siblings or not. Take the time to monitor your child’s interactions with their siblings and friends, so you can teach them the importance of everyone getting a turn. A good way to promote sharing is to provide your child with two similar toys during a play date and encouraging them to give one of them to a friend, so they can both play.
Once children start talking, it’s natural for them to want to try out new words, even bad ones. As hard as you try, improper words can slip out in times of stress and be overheard by little ears and repeated by little mouths.
Experts say that reacting to these words, whether by laughing or scolding your child, only encourages them to use it more. Instead of reacting, they recommend that you ignore this behavior and stay calm. If it continues, then talk to your child about using “nice” words that don’t hurt or upset people.
Children aren’t always going to nail this manners thing on the first try, so it’s also important to teach them about the importance of apologizing and owning their behavior. Whether you are encouraging them to apologize to you for throwing their food or to their friend for not sharing their toys, encourage your child to not only say sorry, but to try to understand why they are sorry.
What Obstacles do Parents Face?
You can teach your children everything you know, but unfortunately you can’t be with them all the time. Perhaps the biggest obstacle parents face in teaching politeness is winning out over outside negative influences.
Many television shows aimed at children do not necessarily encourage polite behavior and children often test out words, names, or actions they witness on television in order to illicit a reaction. Be aware of the kinds of media your children are consuming and encourage them to distinguish what is and isn’t appropriate behavior for them to copy.
Another outside influence can of course be other children. You cannot control what sort of manners your child’s friend’s parents are encouraging, however you can teach your child to think critically not just about their own behavior, but also about the behavior of others.
Politeness Teaching Tactics
Of course, kids are naturally programmed to think of themselves first rather than others, so manners are not necessarily easy for them to learn and remember.
Here are some tactics to help you teach your child polite behavior.
Lead by Example
Children model their behavior on the that of the adults around them, so be sure to practice what you preach. Set a good example by demonstrating basic respect to your spouse, family members, and anyone else you may interact with in front of them. Show your children how to say please and thank you to those you encounter while together and demonstrate how to speak respectfully to store clerks, servers, and everyone in between. They are often paying more attention to your behavior than you think.
You and your parenting partner should be a team when it comes to teaching children manners. Consistency is key. Be sure to discuss your expectations of your children with your partner to make sure you agree on the household rules and enforce them equally.
Having regular household meetings with your partner and your children in which you discuss expectations as a family can be a good idea. Not only is it giving you the opportunity to remind your kids of what acceptable behavior is, but it will allow you and your spouse to present a united front.
Politeness Teaching Tactics
Give Them Prompts
Sometimes, it might be easier just to say “thank you” on behalf of your child when they receive a gift because they’re too wrapped up in the moment and their attention is elsewhere. However, it’s important to remind your children of proper behavior any time the opportunity arises.
“What do we say when someone gives us a gift?” or “what do you say when someone shares their toy with you?” gives them the chance to fill in the blank. Eventually, you shouldn’t have to prompt them any longer.
If your child isn’t picking up these behaviors despite all your best efforts, don’t give up. Speak calmly and patiently to them when correcting their impoliteness, even when you are at the end of your rope and you want to scream “just say thank you already!” Keep repeating, prompting, and discussing politeness with your children and eventually it will sink in.
By emphasizing respect for others above all, you should end up with empathetic, grateful, and respectful children who will grow up to be empathetic, grateful, and respectful adults of which there can never be enough in the world.