Americans appear to live in a culture of rudeness these days. Between social media, politics, and the news media, everyone seems to be willing to argue with everyone else. How are we supposed to teach our children to use good manners in this social climate? Everyone is either offending or being offended, and common courtesy is just not that common anymore.
I’m stepping into the breach to remind everyone to mind their manners, and teach their children what those manners should be.
Let’s start with two basic principles
Respectful behavior is one of the most important skills your children need to acquire. This begins with you. Set high standards for yourself in the way you speak to your children. Treat them with the same dignity you would expect from them. Discipline privately. Don’t talk about them in front of them. Don’t label them, as in, “she’s my stubborn one” or “he’s shy”. If your children see your respectful behavior, it will be much easier to enforce this standard with them.
Respectful behavior should extend to pets, possessions and others’ property. We show respect by not littering, by taking care of our pets, and by being careful with our belongings.
Consideration for others. This sometimes seems to be a dying art. Consideration for others is different from respect. It carries with it a willingness to assume that other people may be affected by your words or behavior. It takes into account that others’ time, space and feelings are as valuable to them as yours are to you. Consideration is what allows us to hold the door for someone else, or to give up our seat in the waiting room for someone who obviously needs it more. To sit down at the ball game or concert so the people behind you can see.
Considerate people are always on time. They step back and let someone with fewer items go ahead of them in the checkout line. They see someone struggling and lend a hand. They don’t talk during the movie or text at the dinner table.
If you teach your child to have respect and consideration for others, the skills I’ve listed below will be much easier for them to understand.
- Shake hands and make eye contact. Children as young as 18 months old can learn this. When they meet an adult, ask them to shake hands and look at the adult’s face. Adults will always help out with this by putting out their hand to your child. Don’t force your child, but model the behavior by shaking hands yourself. Your child will soon catch on.
- The universally-important “please” and “thank you”. From the time they can speak, children can learn to say please and thank you. Practice at home. You know how to do this.
- I live in the South, where every adult is addressed as “sir” or “ma’am”, including parents. It may not be as important in other parts of the country. The key here is that your child should address others with respect. “Hey, lady!” isn’t ok.
- Sharing v. waiting your turn. I have often seen parents tell their children to “share”. It is impossible for two toddlers to share one sand shovel. Instead, they need to learn is how to take turns. Your child can even say, “When you’re finished, may I have a turn?” You can teach your young child how to take turns by playing simple board games with them.
- Interrupting. If you are speaking with someone else, your child can learn to put their hand on your shoulder or arm and wait for your attention before speaking to you. Practice this at home before expecting this in public.
- Listening and talking. Similar to turn-taking, this is a learned practice of having a conversation. You can teach this to your child by putting down your phone and having a conversation with them. Show them how you listen to them by actually doing it: Make eye contact and react to what they’re saying.
- Limit screen time! A corollary to my last point. Stop using your phone or i-pad as an electronic babysitter. Admit it, many times you just want your child to be quiet when you could be teaching them how to have a conversation.
- Sitting quietly. Whether it’s at church, the movies, or a waiting room, there are some situations in which your child has to be quiet. You may want to provide them with a quiet activity to do while they wait. As they get older, you will be able to remind them beforehand that “this is a quiet space”. You may have to carry them out a few times before they understand where your limits are.
- Table manners. Simple things like keeping your lips together when you chew, putting your napkin in your lap (and using it), and not talking with food in your mouth can be taught beginning at about 18 months of age. By the time your child is about 10, they should be able to cut their own meat, know which fork to use, and be able to order their own food in a restaurant.
Take time for training
Remember, none of these habits or behaviors are natural to us as humans, and they have to be taught. Be patient with your child–don’t make every meal an unpleasant nag-fest or force him to shake hands with his own grandparents.
Good manners, rooted in respect and consideration, will go a long way toward making your child feel comfortable and welcome in any social setting. Who knows? Maybe it could even cause an outbreak of respect and politeness right here in America.
Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it. –Proverbs 22:6
Grace is real–