After a generations-long decline in the emphasis on manners when raising children, many 21st-century parents are rediscovering the importance of instilling values of politeness and decorum in their kids. Children who have good manners are better behaved in general, but they also tend to go far in the world because they know how to ingratiate themselves to others in all types of social situations. And ultimately, manners are not just arbitrary rules imposed for no good reason. They help create an ordered society of mutually respectful individuals. So even if you find that manners are not what they used to be, parents can still make a positive difference one child at a time.
When it comes to teaching kids manners, there is no need to get bogged down in the details. Instead, place emphasis on being respectful toward others and avoiding selfishness. Here are some of the best ways to instill these values.
1. Lead by example. If you want your kids to behave according to good social decorum, be a model of polite behavior. If you have lost some of the lessons you learned from your parents and grandparents, read a book or two on the subject. Practice good manners even when your kids are not around.
2. Make good manners fun. Teaching kids good manners does not have to be all about giving lectures or scolding them when they do not behave perfectly. Instead, make it into a sort of game, and do not forget to praise and reward them when they consistently do a good job.
3. Provide positive reinforcement. Instead of focusing on any of the negative behaviors your child may exhibit, praise her for doing things well. For example, when she says “thank you” or asks politely for something, tell her that she did it just perfectly.
4. Encourage good manners in the household. Good manners are not confined to our interactions with non-family members. Kids can also practice good manners toward their siblings and parents. Make it a household philosophy, even if taking pains to be polite sometimes seems silly in the comfortable home setting.
5. Provide opportunities to practice. Although it is possible for everyone in the household to always practice good manners toward each other, it helps to give the kids opportunities to show how polite they can be around people who are not in the family. Have family or friends over regularly, and provide your kids plenty of semiformal contexts in which to practice everything they learn.
6. When they are ready, dine out. Kids with bad manners are the bane of wait staff (not to mention other diners) at restaurants, but kids who know how to behave well can be a joy for everyone involved. When you think your kids are ready to behave well in a public place, start taking them out for dinner once in a while. Let them know that if they behave well, you will go out again in a few weeks or months.
7. Start with the fundamentals. The fundamentals of good manners are saying please when you ask for something and thank you when someone gives you something. If your kids learn nothing else about manners, make sure they know this, as it will endear them to their elders, higher-ups, and peers in all kinds of social and professional situations throughout life.
8. Point out others’ errors. When you are with your child and you witness someone else behaving impolitely, use this as a teaching moment. You can simply point it out to your child, or, if you have time, ask your child what that person did that was impolite and what they should have done instead.
In our home with tots, we’re still learning, practicing and trying to remember to use our manners. We read books about manners and note when manners are (or are not) used by characters in the story.
We’ve also started working on our telephone manners. We have an older real phone in the play area. We have practice play conversations as we learn the correct way to answer a phone. The children love it, and I marvel at how much fun it can be to ‘teach’.
What tips do you have for instilling and practicing manners in your home?