Teaching children manners may seem old-fashioned. As a parent today, you can probably remember your parents reminding you to say “thank you” and “please”, among other things. It is also linked to general social skills. These parental prompts and reminders, plus other social behaviors you picked up from observing others, probably account for the social competence you display as an adult in social situations. By promoting and modeling good manners for your children, you are giving them the chance to acquire the same competence to navigate social situations. No other animal shows the complexity of manners that humans do. Therefore they need to be learned. We are not born with them. As parents, we must teach them rather than think that they will develop spontaneously. As for any good teaching, we must explain why, model, and give feedback.
“Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others,” Emily Post, American novelist and socialite, once remarked. “If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use.” As your child grows, they become more aware of other people’s feelings. Manners are not about a show or gaining praise. They are about acting in a way socially that makes other people feel valued. This, in turn, makes them treat you with mutual respect. Your child will be able to cultivate meaningful and lasting relationships with others in adulthood. The main hurdle is that ‘playground manners’ often conflict with real-world manners causing children to be confused.
List of Good Manners for Children
Teaching children manners can be seen as a list like the one below. They start with very simple and straightforward, but then they become a bit more complex. Pre-school children will begin at the top of the list, but some might not be grasped until the start of High School. As said above, asking to use something and letting someone else go first is not compatible with playtime unless your child is always to miss out. Your child will need some guidance about when playground rules are appropriate and when not. But a true understanding of manners moves beyond this and gives a framework for children to know how to act appropriately in any situation.
- Use “excuse me”, “please”, and “thank you”.
- Not pointing or staring at other people.
- Ask permission before taking or using others’ things.
- Respect for their properties and that of others.
- Return things borrowed from others.
- Not commenting on other people’s looks unless it’s a compliment.
- Respect for other people’s opinions.
- Knock on the door before entering a room.
- Not interrupting the person speaking unless it’s an emergency.
- Respecting other people’s privacy.
- Do away with electronics at the dinner table.
- Apologize when at fault.
- Introduce themself and others where appropriate.
- Shake hands and make eye contact for a better first impression.
- Listen attentively when someone is talking.
- Good table manners like eating with their mouth closed and using utensils appropriately.
- Avoid inappropriate language.
- Clean after themself.
- Ask if it’s convenient before visiting others.
- Not putting their feet up on chairs or using mobile phones to disturb a public place.
- Putting rubbish into the dustbin.
- Helping those in need.
- Learning and remembering other people’s names.
- Clearing their plate after mealtimes.
- Offering to help when they’re a guest in someone’s home.
How Can I Teach My Child Manners?
With such a comprehensive list of manners for children, there’s a lot for parents to cover. Below are ways to teach your child.
- Be a model of good manners. One of the most effective ways of teaching children manners is to model. Without having to say it, your child will pick up some good manners from the way you interact with others. So, watch the way you interact with family members to be sure you’re modeling appropriate behaviors.
- Use role-play. Role-play provides an avenue for your child to practice etiquette and good manners. It involves making up real-life situations to find out how your child would respond. You could ask, “What if you want to play with your friend’s toy? What would you do?”. With older children in the car or at the dinner table, talk about difficult situations they might have on the horizon. This will put their mind at rest about expectations. For instance, if they are going for a job interview, how they should navigate the situations and a suitable compliment.
- Offer praise as positive reinforcement. Offering praise moves the spotlight away from bad manners to the ones your child gets right. So if you catch your child practicing some good manners, you could say, “You did well asking Peter’s permission before touching his toy.” For older children, away from the situation, like on the car journey home, saying, “I was really proud of the way you acted at Peter’s house. You gave an excellent impression of yourself that he will value you as a friend, and you are likely to be asked back.”
- Give reasons why their behavior is inappropriate. Without turning it into a long-winded lecture, tell your child why a particular behavior is wrong. In a calm voice, you could say, “People don’t feel appreciated if you don’t thank them for a gift.” Then link it to empathy with how they would feel in the same situation.
- Be a coach. Being a coach involves listening, acknowledging, and providing feedback and solutions. Make a habit of sitting down with your child, talking with them, and finding out where they’re struggling. Hopefully, with children of any age, we still get the chance to talk about our days. Within these conversations, you could ask them about interactions and how they went. Then politely provide feedback and help them practice.
Final Thoughts on Teaching Children Manners
While it’s not wrong to occasionally demand good behavior from your child, you don’t want to force the issue. This can wear your child out and make them disinterested even before they’ve had the chance to understand why good manners matter fully. Teaching children manners is about the ‘golden rule’. Treat other people the way you want to be treated. Instead of forcing things, Peggy Post, author of more than a dozen books about etiquette, suggests that you “pepper your teaching with cool (and kind of weird) trivia about manners. The stories will stick with them and help them remember to do what you’re advising.” Rather than give manners as rules to be followed, present them as an unwritten language. They make the world an easier place for us to navigate, avoid conflict, and give us more opportunities and friendships.