Kindness, consideration, and respect are qualities most parents hope to instill in their children. Some today may find the concept of proper etiquette old fashioned, but teaching children basic good manners is one way to enforce these important ideals.
“Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness you have good manners, no matter what fork you use.”—Emily Post
While I could write a whole book about manners (as Emily Post most famously did) here are 10 very basic lessons parents can teach their children, providing them with the understandings necessary to become well-mannered adults.
Please. Thank You. Excuse Me.
Beginning at square one, it is not too difficult to get even the youngest children into the habit of including a “please” with every request, a “thank you” upon any receipt, and an “excuse me” upon any imposition.
The key to developing this habit in children is simply to kindly remind them consistently to include these “magic words” until they can remember on their own.
Respect in Conversation
As children get old enough to engage in conversation, they can be taught to respect those with whom they speak by giving their full attention and maintaining good eye contact. Children can be taught to address adults properly (that is, “Mrs. Smith” or “Dr. Jones”). Parents can help children by saying things like, “Do you remember Mrs. Smith?” upon introduction. These are skills that can be explained and taught through role modeling at home.
Patience may take time for kids to learn, but one way to regularly exercise this virtue is to teach children not to interrupt others, unless of course there is an emergency. Very young children can understand that if others are engaged in conversation it is not kind or considerate to insist upon stopping it so that they may say something. If it is necessary to interrupt, of course, they can be taught to say, “excuse me.”
Listen to Understand
Building upon the ideals of patience and kindness, we can teach kids, as they mature, an essential skill that epitomizes good manners: the skill of listening. Giving respect to anyone they converse with, kids can go beyond the practice of not interrupting to truly listening, with an aim to understand what is being said.
Of course, simply being nice is critical to having good manners. Thanks to Disney’s Bambi and his adorable bunny friend, Thumper, this is an easy concept to remind kids of: “If you can’t say somethin’ nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.” (You can teach them proper grammar later. ;))
The use of digital devices presents a whole new category of etiquette to consider. If parents instill the idea of consideration for others, though, right and wrong quickly become clear. Looking at your phone while in the middle of a conversation? Wrong. Sharing photos with your the friends around you? Right. Pulling out the iPad at a restaurant? Wrong. Googling the answer to a question everyone present would like answered? Right.
Be a Facilitator
Whether a guest in someone’s home, a participant in a discussion, a pupil in a classroom, or a shopper in a store, one can always consider others and aim to be someone who makes things easier. If we can instill this idea in our kids, they’ll surely be well-mannered. As guests in someone’s home, for example, they’ll clean up after themselves and offer to help. As students in class, they’ll follow the rules and be helpful to their teacher and classmates.
Tolerate and Appreciate Others
Children are never too young to be appreciative and tolerant of others—true testaments of kindness.
“The real test of good manners is to be able to put up with bad manners pleasantly.”—Kahlil Gibran
Praise Their Good Manners
Positive reinforcement is a critical tool to teach children anything. As your kids develop good habits and continue to display good manners, reinforce their success with praise. Notice when your children are using their good manners and being kind and let them know you’re proud of them.
Model the Behavior Yourself
Perhaps the most effective way to teach your children good manners is to have good manners yourself.
“The hardest job kids face today is learning good manners without seeing any.”—Fred Astaire
Children, as you likely well know, model the behavior of their parents. If this is an area you could use improvement in, make the effort to bring about a positive change that both you and your children will benefit from.