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Do Manners Matter?

A perfectly mannered child (or adult for that matter) is for the most part a mythical creature. It’s human to make mistakes while interacting with others, and it’s important to use those times as teachable moments to grow from. Teaching your children to be empathetic and well-mannered can be a challenging task, but there are a few basics which can help pave the way.

  • Express gratitude: Teach your child the importance of thanking people for gifts and other acts of kindness. Encourage him to express his appreciation by saying, “Thank you for the birthday gift,” or writing a personal and prompt note on special stationery or note cards. A preschooler can dictate his words to you and draw a picture or sign his name. School-age children can even send an e-mail to thank someone. 
  • Make your empathy visible: Help your child understand that teasing a friend or saying unkind things will make others feel bad. Ask questions such as, "How would you feel if someone pointed at you and started to laugh?" 
  • Praise good behavior: Let your children know how proud you are when you "catch" them being polite. Before long, good manners will become second nature to them. 
  • Show your disapproval and explain why. If our expectations are appropriate and understood by children and the children don’t meet them, disapproval is not only okay, it is important. When children behave badly, they need us to tell them that we expect more from them and explain what “more” is. 

The National Association of Elementary School Principals offers parents these ideas to help raise children with good manners: 

  • Help your child use words, not actions: Many times, young children behave badly because they don’t know how else to express themselves. Play out some of the situations with which your child is having trouble, and show her how to respond calmly and firmly with words instead of actions.
  • Take turns: Children must understand that they have to wait for their turns, just like everyone else. Establish zero tolerance for playground behavior such as pushing, crashing a line, or bullying. The same goes for interrupting.
  • Share: Help your children understand the importance of sharing with others in school and in life. Compliment them when you see them sharing with others. But also let them know that it’s the kind of behavior you expect.
  • Provide rest and good nutrition: Children tend to behave badly when they are tired or hungry. Make sure they get enough sleep and nutritious food.
  • Be honest: While "fessing up" to misbehavior is sometimes difficult and painful for children, they must understand that honesty is the best policy. When they admit doing something wrong, tell them that you would have been more angry or disappointed if they hadn’t admitted their mistake.

We all want our children to be respected and well-liked by others. Children’s Manners Consultant, Kerry Preston, explains to children, “Practice, practice, practice. The best way to practice having great manners is to be nice to Mom, Dad, and siblings. This is when most of us are at our worst.”

Developing and demonstrating good manners is a lifelong lesson. Be patient with your child’s developmental limits. Preschool children are just beginning to develop empathy and understanding that the world of people involves some pretty complicated rituals. Young school-age children are still sorting through what is rude and what is exuberant. Refinement of social skills can take years to master.

Your child can’t cram for the manners test just prior to holiday meals with Grandma or social events with your boss. Your child will be frustrated and you’ll be disappointed. Politeness and consideration need to be taught in small doses every day.

We grow our children for good or ill from our actions and omissions, our extraordinary efforts and our guilty acquiescence. Doing the best we can most of the time, trying to be thoughtful and considerate models, and expecting the most from our children with our gentle guidance, will usually result in behavior we can be proud of.

Web sites for additional resources:
Education World offers a site packed with information for educators who want to teach students respect and good manners. Included are resources for teaching through stories, poems, songs, games, biographies, lesson plans, and activities.

If your child has trouble socializing with other children, Scholastic’s child expert Peggy Schmidt can help with practical advice on acting out appropriate behavior, conflict resolution, how to teach your child to listen and apologize, and how to be successful in social interactions with others.

Originally published on BrightHorizons

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