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Teaching Children Manners

Basic good etiquette children should know

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Two boy shaking hand
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In today’s fast-paced, technology-driven society where emails and texts have largely replaced face-to-face interactions and rude behavior such as people barking into cell phones in public spaces or texting at the dinner table are increasingly commonplace, teaching children good 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. 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. Here are some great ways parents can teach their children good manners.

Important Manners to Teach Your Child

  • 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 in the course of their daily routines.

  • Don’t forget the cousins.
    The cousins of “Please” and “Thank you,” that is. Be sure to teach your child to use phrases such as “May I,” “Fine, thank you; and how are you?” says Patricia Rossi, author of Everyday Etiquette.

  • Practice greeting people properly.
    Showing your child how to greet people properly is one of the most important skills you can teach him, says Rossi. 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.

  • Encourage your child to use “Mr.” or “Ms.”
    It may sound old-fashioned, but using a title and last name is really the most well-mannered way for a child to address or refer to someone, says Rossi.

  • Go over how they should answer the telephone.
    When answering the telephone, teach your child to say, “May I tell my mother who is calling, please?” instead of saying “Who is this?” says Rossi. And for safety’s sake, tell your child not to say your family’s name when answering the phone (as in, “Smith residence”). Also, remind your child to never scream across the house for you but to walk over to you and tell you that you have a phone call. If you are unavailable, teach your child to say something like, “She’s not available. May I take a message, please?” And tell your child to take down the information, repeat it back to the caller, and ask the caller how her name is spelled.

  • 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.) Rossi suggests having your child place her cell phone in a basket when she walks in the door.

  • Remind your child to speak to people in a way he wants 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.

  • Get your child into the habit of waiting 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.

  • Emphasize the importance of being gracious when competing.
    Teach your child not to gloat when winning and to cheer others on when he is losing. Good sportsmanship will be an important skill for children to have later in life when they need to work with others on projects and other endeavors at home and at work.

  • Teach your child good play date manners.
    Remind your child to follow the rules of her friend’s house when on a play date, and to always clean up after herself 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 an “library voice” inside the house. If your child is hosting the play date, be sure that she puts her friend first, by, say giving her the best seat and serving her first, says Rossi.
  • 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 pleasant dinner conversation.

Finally, remember that you set the standard. If you are at the dinner table texting on your cell phone or routinely speak to people in a rude manner, your child will pick up on these behaviors and will most likely copy them. If you want to raise and well-mannered child, the first thing you must do as a parent is take a good look at your own behavior and make sure you are consistently practicing good manners yourself.

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