Somewhere in the last few decades we’ve lost something in our culture. We’ve lost the desire for and the art of good manners. Along with our casual living and dressing styles, has come a lax attitude toward etiquette. And I understand it somewhat. In our efforts to know each other at a deeper level, our culture as a whole as shed the “formalities” that can sometimes feel, well, formal… less intimate.
But manners don’t have to equal stuffiness. Instead, good manners nod to an awareness of and a courtesy to others. Is the goal of parenting to raise polite children? No, there’s much more to our great charge than that. But it is a parent’s responsibility to instill basic courtesies in their children. Good manners will make our children’s lives a lot easier if they know how to relate to others with graciousness.
Here is a list of 10 basic social manners for children:
1. Say “please” when asking.
2. Say “thank you” when receiving.
3. Say “excuse me” after bumping into someone.
4. Put down electronics when someone enters the room.
5. Look people in the eye when speaking.
6. Let others finish before you speak.
7. Shake hands firmly.
8. Say “Yes ma’am” and “Yes sir” when talking to grownups.
9. Greet people with “Hi” and “How are you?”
10. Open doors for others.
So how can we instill good manners in our children?
Lead by example – Manners are not innate in our children, they must be taught. Role playing and prompting of courtesies are very important, but our children will learn the most by watching how we employ our manners. Do you say “please” and “thank you” to your spouse and children? And being courteous to your waiter or the store clerk is worth a thousand “what-do-you-say?” comments as we model good manners.
Consistency is key – As stated above, manners must be taught. And taught. And taught. A typical day gives parents plenty of opportunities to reinforce the exact same manners lesson over and over again. Teaching kids to chew with their mouths closed, remain seated at the table during a meal and say “excuse me” after bodily functions are on-going occasions for refinement. Haphazard, willy-nilly enforcement of manners will yield poor or no manners at all. And if rude or inappropriate behavior gets laughs at home, there is a great chance the same behavior will be seen in public.
Caught ya doin’ good – As parents, we should acknowledge and praise behaviors we want to see repeated. And not all praise messages are verbal. A wink, a smile or a hug all communicate “great job!”
It’s a work in progress – To be honest, I almost didn’t write about manners because I was afraid of putting my family under a microscope and we are far from perfect in this area. My kids still need to be reminded to not interrupt, to speak when spoken to, to use their napkins…not their sleeves, etc. I was also afraid that writing this would make other parents hyperconscious when I’m around their kids, which I wouldn’t ever want. Let’s just agree that we all need to extend grace in this area and encourage each other.
And even when you think you’re covering all your refined bases, there will still be moments when you want to zap yourself out of situations or act like that’s someone else’s kid. But knowing when to use common courtesies are all part of the manners package. And good manners will enhance your child’s reputation in every arena – home, school, the community, and eventually their workplace.
“Even a child is known by his actions, by whether his conduct is pure and right.” Proverbs 20:11