Teaching Children Manners

Etiquette, polite behavior, and table manners are signs of respect for other people. Teaching children of all ages what types of behavior is expected of them in specific situations is an important part of social development. Here's how to keep these important principles alive and well in your family.
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Teachers with 30 years or more experience say that today's child is, in general, much less respectful and much less mannerly than the typical child of a generation ago. Unfortunately, unless children learn respect for others, beginning with adults, they can never learn to respect themselves.

The Connection Between Respect and Good Manners

Manners and respect are inseparable. Children develop respect for others by first developing it for their parents. Children should be taught to behave in mannerly ways toward their parents. That means children should not be allowed to call their parents (or any adult for that matter) by their first names, interrupt adult conversations unless in crisis, or (beyond age three) throw tantrums when they don't get their way. When adults speak, children should pay attention; and when adults give instructions, children should carry them out. 

Try these tips for teaching good manners:

Work on one thing at a time. If you try to teach too many social skills at once, you will end up teaching none of them well. Instead, teach table manners first, for example. When those have been learned, advance to phone manners, and so on.

Praise your children for their successes. When your kids display proper manners at home or in public, give them immediate positive feedback. It's more critical that you do this during the early "learning phase" of manners instruction, but even older children need to occasionally hear how proud you are of their social deportment.

Be tolerant of your children's lapses, but do not overlook them. Children will make mistakes. The more patient you are, the more progress they will ultimately make. Under no circumstances should you reprimand a child's social errors in public, although firm reminders may at times be in order. Remember that children want to please adults and that it's easier to catch the proverbial fly with honey than with vinegar.

When it's obvious that your child has forgotten a certain social ritual, give a prompt. If, for example, your child forgets to extend his or her hand upon meeting an adult, quietly ask, "What are we supposed to do when we meet someone older than ourselves?" That gives the child the opportunity to do the right thing without feeling he or she is being criticized.

Last but not least, set a good example. A "do as I say, not as I do" approach to manners simply won't work. Your children must see you setting a good example when it comes to manners. And by the way, manners are not a one-way street. If you want your children to behave in a mannerly way toward you, then you must behave in a mannerly way toward them as well.

Essential Manners to Teach Your Child

Help your child be socially savvy by teaching him or her the following key behaviors for better manners:

  • Always say "please" and "thank you". They're not called the magic words for nothing! These two simple words lay the ground work for good manners
  • Practice good table manners. From preschoolers keeping their elbows off the table to tweens setting the table correctly, table manners for kids can change and evolve as your child grows.
  • Remember the golden rule. Treating others the way you want to be treated is a lesson kids can apply to just about every interaction they encounter. 
  • Be a good listener. Not interrupting people you're speaking with and taking the time to listen are simple ways your child can show maturity and respect.
  • Respect each other’s space, belongings, and privacy. Learning to mind boundaries and understand ownership and space will help your child better interact not just with your family, but with other peers and adults, too.
  • Be a gracious host and a good guest. Teach your child how to welcome friends into your home and respect their needs while visiting. And, also share with your child tips for being a polite and respectful guest while staying with friends or other family members.

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