In today’s fast-paced, technology-driven society, teaching children manners is something that is more crucial than ever. One of the most important jobs we have as parents is to help our children develop social skills, show them how to interact in a polite manner with people, and teach them to treat others with respect.
Displaying good manners is a vital part of life. They are a sign of respect and consideration for others. Good manners are also an outward manifestation of our values, principles, and beliefs. Exhibiting kindness can mean a world of difference between being liked or disliked by others. Whether you’re interacting with friends, family, or strangers on the street, your social interactions will be much more pleasant by simply following some basic rules of etiquette. When it comes to children teaching good manners is essential.
Whether the occasion is a holiday gathering, a family meal, or a simple trip to the grocery store, parents can use these social opportunities to instill good manners in their children that will become a habitual part of their lives into adolescence and beyond.
It’s easier to nurture first-class child behavior if you work as a family to set the rules for good manners in many different situations.
Children as young as 18 months old can learn the fundamentals about manners by being taught to say “please” and “thank you” when appropriate, even if they do not understand the reasons for being polite.
Parents can role play good manners with their children, using dolls or puppets. It can sometimes be fun to let them be the parent and you act as the unruly child.
After a while, the reminders won’t be needed. As a child matures, he or she will remember appropriate manners and need less guidance.
Along the way, remember to acknowledge them when they do use proper manners: catch them being “good” because they will repeat the behavior you notice.
Key Manners to Teach Your Child
Emphasize cell phone etiquette: If your child has a cell phone, be sure you convey the message that it will not be brought to the table. (In fact, you may want to consider banning all electronics at the table and turning off the TV so that you can focus on each other and the dinner conversation.
Emphasize the importance of being gracious when competing: Teach your child not to gloat when winning and to cheer others on when they are losing.
Get your child into the habit of waiting for her turn to speak: This is one a lot of children, especially younger kids, have trouble with. That’s because often, kids want to express their thoughts as soon as something occurs to them. Children are also naturally self-centered and may need reminders to wait until someone has finished speaking before interrupting. To help kids learn this habit, parents can try using a visual reminder, such as a stuffed animal or a talking stick. Simply have everyone talk only when it’s their turn to hold the talking stick to teach kids how to wait for their turn to speak.
Instill good table manners in your child: No matter whether it’s a big holiday meal with family or an ordinary dinner during the week, your child should have a good handle on basic table manners. Basic good manners such as not chewing with one’s mouth full or waiting to eat until everyone has been served can be followed by even the youngest of grade-schoolers. And as children become older, they can help set and clear the table and carry on a pleasant dinner conversation.
Remind your child to speak to people in a way they want to be spoken to: That means not using use rude remarks such as “Shut up,” or speaking in an unfriendly tone of voice, even when disagreeing with someone.
Teach them to say “Please” and “Thank you”: This, of course, is one of the cardinal foundations of good manners. As kids get older, parents can encourage them to write thank you notes, preferably with pen and paper. It goes without saying that kids should learn how to say thank you for gifts that they receive; but they should also be taught to say thank you to people who assist or serve them, such as waiters in restaurants, and even their mom and dad when they do something for them during their daily routines.
Asking Permission Before Taking Something: Another important thing for children to learn is asking permission before taking something. Children need to understand that they shouldn’t take anything that doesn’t belong to them. Whether they wish to borrow a toy from a peer or borrow a sibling’s bag, children need to know that it’s not acceptable to take items without the consent of the owner. Not only does asking permission first show respect for another person’s belongings, but it will also help your little one to avoid unnecessary conflict.
Saying I’m Sorry After Making a Mistake: We all make mistakes from time to time. It’s important that children are taught how to give a genuine apology when they hurt someone or make a mistake. Learning how to say they’re sorry teaches kids about the importance of empathy. At the same time, apologizing also instilling accountability.
Teach your child good playdate manners: Remind your child to follow the rules of her friend’s house when on a play date, and to always clean up after themself before leaving. Be sure your child always greets the host or hostess, never puts her feet on the furniture, and waits until the host eats first at snack time. Also, stress the importance of using a “library voice” inside the house. If your child is hosting the playdate, be sure that they put her friend first, by, say giving her the best seat and serving her first.
Practice greeting people properly: Showing your child how to greet people properly is one of the most important skills you can teach them. Teach your child to look people in the eye, face them directly, and shake their hand when meeting them. A great way to practice these skills is by going over them with your child while role-playing.
Engaging with the person next to them instead of staring at a screen: This behavior is so common among adults and children alike that there’s a term for it: phubbing, or phone snubbing. Kids today are often using tech media devices and keep right on using them when they are with friends or grownups.
Greeting people properly/having a conversation: Many children today do not practice basic good manners when meeting or speaking with others. Good etiquette means looking the other person in the eye when saying hello and speaking to them, listening to what they are saying, responding to questions, and waiting your turn to speak—skills that many children are sorely lacking today.
Being Kind and Compassionate: Learning to show compassion and kindness to others are key habits for children to develop. In addition to making them feel good about themselves, exhibiting kindness and compassion also helps us create healthy relationships with others.
Opening doors/holding doors for other people: Does your child see someone struggling with a stroller and bags and notice that they may need help opening a door? Would they observe an elderly person struggling with a big bag and ask if they need help? If the answer is no, it’s time to redirect your child’s thinking.
Saying “thank you” and “please”: It’s a sad fact that many children today are shockingly rude when out in a restaurant or other setting where someone serves them or helps them. Even kids as young as age 3 and 4 should be routinely reminded to say thanks, but it’s all too common to see kids of all ages—including older kids who shouldn’t need reminders—lack these basic manners.
Writing Thank You Cards: This is something that has become much less common since we all started using email and texting. And while sending an email or text to express gratitude is good, sitting down to write a physical note to express gratitude for a gift or a favor is even better.
How to Improve Kids’ Manners
- Have dinner conversations: Not only are regular family dinners important for kids’ health and development (they’ve been linked to reduced risk of obesity, healthier eating habits, improved social and emotional skills, better school performance, and more), they can be excellent opportunities to have kids practice how they should speak to others and how to have a conversation (listen, wait for a turn to speak, disagree respectfully, etc.).
- Have kids regularly say, “thank you” and “please”: Whether at home or in a restaurant, get your kids into the habit of saying thanks when someone serves them food, helps them with something, gives them a present, or does something else for them. Teach your child to always be respectful to waiters and waitresses, Uber drivers, and anyone else who serves them.
- Have them write thank you cards: A proper thank you card will express why your child appreciates a certain gift or favor and include some acknowledgment about the specific gift.
- Set the Example: Your child will, of course, learn by watching you, so really take a good look at your own behavior. Do you say thanks when someone does something for you? Do you speak respectfully to your children and to others around you? Do you treat family, friends, and even strangers with courtesy and respect? Evaluate your own manners and conduct and adjust if necessary, so that your child can use you as a role model to follow as they learn how to properly interact with people.
- Show them how to write polite emails and texts: Your child will communicate via email more frequently as they get older. Go over some basics with your child, such as how to greet someone in an email, how to write in a clear and polite tone, and how to sign off at the end of the email (with “Sincerely,” or “Yours Truly,” or “Best,”). If you have allowed your older school-age child to have access to social media, be sure they never post rude comments.
- Teach them the importance of empathy: Get your child into the habit of noticing those who might be in need (someone struggling with a door or a heavy bag, for instance). Teach her to think beyond her own needs and think about how she can assist someone who might need a helping hand.
Preorder our book, Emily’s Emotional Empathy here: https://fanatic4feelings.com/products to help teach your child these concepts.
- Turn off the TV: Hosts talking over each other, and hurling insults are common on news programs, not to mention the “sassy” attitude you often see on many kids’ shows. Reducing screen time is a great idea in general; research shows that limiting TV and other screen-time improves kids’ health, grades, and behavior, among other benefits.
- Teach Gratitude: There’s more to teaching manners than just words. Gratitude and politeness are valued traits in our culture.
When children express their appreciation for things that are done for them or given to them, they:
- feel better about themselves
- begin to see themselves as recipients rather than “takers”
- develop a sense of empathy as they recognize that other people are going out of their way for them.
Without such expressions of gratitude, children become self-centered and take for granted all that they have. People who use “please” and “thank you” regularly come across as gracious and thoughtful, both admirable qualities.
At the heart of good manners is a respect for oneself and others. Good manners convey a sense of respect for the sensibilities of other people. When you say, “thank you,” you’re taking the time to make the other person feel appreciated. Saying “please” respects a person’s right not to do what you’ve asked (it’s not so demanding with a “please” attached).
As your child treats those around them with respect and manners they will find others responding well to them. This in turn simply fuels and builds their confidence as they enjoy positive interactions with those around them.
Some parents may think manners are old-fashioned or unnecessary. But ultimately, this seemingly insignificant issue has a far deeper and lasting effect than some realize. It can affect the quality of the relationships your child builds and their social life.
It may take a while; these changes don’t happen overnight, particularly if they are new to a family’s routine. But gentle (and repeated) correcting and asking children to restate their requests will reap worthwhile results.
You may need to put forth months of sustained effort to make a change, but once you hear your family speaking kindly to one another out of habit, it can really change the family dynamics for the better.