Teaching Your Children Basic Manners

Father and daughters coloring

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Most parents want their children to know how to act, but many aren't sure where to start. The most important things to consider are to set an example by having good manners of your own and to be consistent.

Good manners should be taught at a very early age because once bad habits form, they’re difficult to change. Parents need to realize that from the moment their children are born, they serve as role models.

If the parents are rude, the children will be too. The most effective way to teach good manners is to state the rules and then show how to apply these rules in everyday life. You can even make etiquette fun with etiquette games for the family.

Start With the Basics

Start out with a very basic set of rules for your children to follow from a very early age and start at home. You don’t want to overwhelm your little ones or stifle their development by introducing concepts they’re not ready for too early. You can always add etiquette rules as they are needed.

Example of basic rules:

  • Don’t interrupt
  • Keep your elbows off the table
  • Don’t chew with your mouth open
  • Say “please” and “thank you”
  • Use an “inside” voice when indoors

Gradually Add Rules as the Child Is Ready

As soon as you feel your child is ready for the next level of etiquette rules, let them know that you are proud of how well mannered they are, and you want to teach them something new. They will see this as a positive thing, and they are more likely to embrace good manners. Although some customs change, good manners never go out of style.

If your child groans every time you remind him of an etiquette issue, try turning your etiquette lessons into a fun game. This makes it a positive experience for the child, and the lesson will be remembered much longer.

List of etiquette rules to add to the basics:

  • Teach the basics of table settings and how to act at the dinner table.
  • When eating at someone else’s home, avoid hurting the host’s feelings
  • Answer the phone politely.
  • Follow proper cell phone etiquette and never interrupt a “live” person with a cell phone call.
  • Take the child out in public so she can practice good behavior. Some places you might want to go include family-friendly restaurants and the library.
  • Send thank you notes.
  • If an invitation has an RSVP request, always respond by the deadline.
  • Never gossip about anyone.
  • Hold doors for anyone who has his or her hands full or needs extra help.
  • Be nice to everyone.

Finding a Lost Item

The old saying, “Finders keepers, losers weepers,” is wrong on more than one level. First of all, finding something does not make it yours. Also, the person who lost the item shouldn’t weep when she sees that it has been found. Instead, she should smile as she thanks you for returning it. Teach your child to look for the rightful owner of anything she finds because keeping it without making any attempts to find the person is simply wrong.

Respect Elders and People in Authority

Unless the older person or person in authority is asking your child to do something he knows is wrong, respect is essential in establishing a good relationship. This is another area where you can set the example to show your child how an outward show of respect looks. Calling the person by his or her surname, such as Mr., Mrs., Ms., Miss, or Dr. is a good start.

Listen to what the person in authority is saying and never interrupt unless there's an emergency. When you see or hear your child living up to your expectations, offer praise without being effusive.

Break Bad Manners

Establishing good manners in your children can be challenging with all the outside influence they’ll encounter in their everyday lives. However, it is possible, but it requires quite a bit of diligence and repetition of the rules. You can even use what the children see as examples of how not to behave. If she sees someone acting out at a birthday party or a cartoon on TV where a character misbehaves, ask what the person should have done instead.

Most of the time, positive statements are more effective than negative ones. However, there are times when you have to use the word “no” to emphasize good manners. After you tell them what not to do, give them an alternative to bad behavior.

Examples of bad manners:

  • Spitting
  • Coughing or sneezing in someone’s face
  • Intentionally burping or passing gas
  • Throwing things in anger
  • Calling someone a bad name
  • Pushing or shoving
  • Inappropriately touching others
  • Grabbing something from someone else
  • Begging or whining
  • Constantly interrupting

Good manners are essential in any civilization. The etiquette your children learn at an early age will carry over into adulthood and help make them more successful in friendships, family life, and careers. All the hard work and effort you put into teaching your children basic manners will bring the reward of knowing your child is equipped to handle himself in a civilized world. Expect a few etiquette mistakes every now and then. Help your child correct them and move on.