Raising Well-Mannered Children
Do you dream of raising polite, likeable, and friendly children? It's never too early (or too late!) to teach the fine art of etiquette and good manners to your kids.
Parents are Mentors
“Good manners are appreciated as much as bad manners are abhorred.”
—Bryant H. McGill
At a group picnic, a young boy with freckles and gleaming green eyes approached the table where I sat with mothers who chatted about their charming children. He opened his mouth wide and exuded a belch, which growled and rumbled as it rolled across the table like a hurricane. All the mothers looked his way, but none, including his own, knew how to react. Some squirmed and frowned. One blushed and nibbled her lip. Finally a peppy mommy smiled and asked if anyone knew the day’s temperature. Chatter rose again as if nothing had happened. The boy’s grin of accomplishment and his mother’s lack of response stood out, and I wondered how my grandmother would have reacted.
This isn’t a rare occurrence these days. According to an online poll published by American Demographics magazine in July 2003, 85 percent of adults surveyed think that Americans don’t have the manners they should. Manners seem to have vanished with the business suit and tie. People act more casual now than they did fifty years ago, and one byproduct has been the loss of etiquette. Who can reverse this trend? Parents.
Parents have the power to fill the next generation with kind, considerate adults who cheerfully say “please,” “thank you,” and “excuse me” whenever the occasion requires. From first table manners, such as eating from a spoon, to learning how to make formal introductions and host a dinner party, moms and dads must teach their children manners. They cannot expect schoolteachers or caregivers to be the primary force behind instilling manners—etiquette is a way of life that originates in the heart, and parents are in charge of teaching their children family values.
“Fine manners need the support of fine manners in others.”
—Ralph Waldo Emerson
According to Cindy Post Senning, great-granddaughter of etiquette guru Emily Post and co-author of Emily Post’s The Gift of Good Manners, “The three principals for setting the tone in a home are respect, consideration, and honesty.” If children are expected to display proper etiquette, parents have to mentor this behavior. Start by creating the proper environment. “Talk to the family, including Baby, with respect,” Senning advises. “And always behave the way you want your child to behave.”
A Gentle Hand
“Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter which fork you use.”
Senning advises parents not to set their expectations for proper behavior too low. “As with any skill, teach manners starting with the simplest elements, then build. A toddler may not be able to sit still through an entire family dinner, so keep a basket of quiet toys in the corner of the dining room. When your toddler is full, allow him to play on the floor while the family finishes the meal. This way, he learns the expectations of eating with the family.”
When working on a specific manners skill with a child, inform your youngster’s caregivers about the skill to reinforce that manners are important all of the time. Senning recommends that children, “Practice, practice, practice manners,” and this is important even when parents aren’t with their kids.
“Correction does much, but encouragement does more.”
—Johann von Goethe
“Never embarrass or humiliate your children by correcting them in public,” Senning says. Parents should display manners even when addressing a child’s inappropriate behavior. Often a loving touch and a warning look can remind a child what’s expected of him. If this does not work, remove the child to a private location and discuss his behavior. “Correcting a child in public is appropriate only when they display hurtful or destructive behavior,” says Senning.
Positive reinforcement can encourage repeated use of good manners. When a child displays proper etiquette in public or private, commend him. Young children want to please their parents and thrive on recognition.
Other incentives may include rewards related to the behavior. “For instance, if your child struggles to keep his elbows off the table, offer a reward of his choice of dessert if he can keep his elbows off the table through an entire meal,” suggests Senning. If he fails, offer encouragement and make the same offer at the next meal. Senning does not recommend paying children for good behavior. She also advises parents, “Be sure to follow through with your promises.”
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