It’s a great feeling when you go to pick up your child from a friend’s house and the other mom says, “He can come back anytime!” Knowing your child has shown good manners and been easy to handle feels like a huge pat on the back.
Good manners can be modeled, but our kids also need to be actively taught. Using good manners isn’t a stuffy, elitist practice–it’s the way we say to those around us that we respect them and care about their comfort and feelings. Here are some basics that every child should know:
This is good manners 101. Even as your toddler is learning to speak, prompt him to add “please” to his requests and respond with “thank you” when they’re met. A habit started this early is effortless and typically lasts forever.
2. Don’t interrupt.
Here’s an easy solution for kids who interrupt while you’re talking to someone else in person or on the phone. Have your child place her hand gently on your arm. You can then look at her and acknowledge her request for your attention. If she forgets, remind her of the rule, and return to your conversation.
3. Use excuse me 1 and 2.
If there is an emergency or a need that can’t wait, teach your child to say, “excuse me” to politely enter your conversation and get your help. Your child should also know that if they do something accidentally, like bumping into someone or burping, the remedy is to say “excuse me.”
Remind your child to be considerate of others at the table by never talking while chewing food, keeping elbows off the table, and passing things as asked. Even a small child can learn to keep a napkin on his lap and wipe his mouth as needed. In her book, 1001 More Things to Do with Your Kids, Caryl Waller Krueger suggests focusing on one table manner per week and rewarding with a point system.
5. Practice conversation courtesy.
Teach your children the basics: make eye contact when talking to others; don’t give automatic answers like “I don’t know.” “Yeah.” “Whatever.”
6. A good guest gets invited back.
When visiting a friend’s home for a play date or party, teach her to respect all the household rules (even if they’re different from your own), and to clean up after herself. Before leaving, she should thank her friend and the friend’s parents for the invitation.
Teach your child to knock before opening a closed door.
8. Practice phone manners (1.0).
Cell phones make phone manners tricky. When placing a call, your child should identify himself and then politely ask to speak to his friend. (“Hi, this is Sam Williams. May I please speak with David?”) Practice this by letting your child call you on your cell phone and ask for someone. On the flipside, when answering the phone, your child should know to say hello, and then politely respond to the request of the caller (“Hello?…Yes, she’s here. Just a moment and I’ll get her.”)
9. Practice phone manners (2.0).
This item could have its own list! Turn the phone off during meals, movies, classes, and conversations. This includes texting. Bottom line: give 100% attention to the people you are with.
If your child receives a gift, she should thank the giver upon receiving it, and follow up with a nice note or email expressing her appreciation.
11. No comment…
Teach your children to refrain from commenting on another person’s appearance or physical characteristics unless it’s to pay them a compliment, which is always nice.
12. Put others first.
This should be number one because it’s at the root of all the others. This principle comes to life in holding doors, stepping aside, offering the last cookie, giving up your seat, changing a tire, saying “no, after you…”, carrying groceries, offering a hand.
We give kids a pass on this because it feels like a grown-up thing to do, but it makes a huge difference. Remind them to offer a word of welcome when they meet new people or when others visit the home. It may be a cliché to say first impressions make a big impact, but it’s true.
14. Be a good host.
Make it routine. Teach them to ask, “May I take your coat?” “Would you like a glass of water?” “Let me take your bag.” People who visit are our guests. This is a key lesson, no matter what a child’s age.
15. Stand up when an elder enters the room.
Many adults have forgotten this gem. It’s a sign of respect no matter what our age. Grandparents? Aunts and uncles? Teachers? Any visitor to the home. Teach children to stand as a sign of respect.
16. Be polite to people who serve.
This means make eye contact and turn your phone off when talking to the cashier at the fast-food joint or grocery store. It means being respectful to the server at the restaurant. It means saying “Thank you” when you pass the school custodian taking out the trash. Try thanking the bus driver for the ride home or a soldier for serving our country.
Appropriate table talk is a subject that comes up quite often at our dinner table. We have three boys so there are a lot of stories, words, and jokes that are not okay for table talk. We let them know there’s a time and place where you may talk about that story, but the dinner table is not it. We have directed them back to conversations about school, friends, the food itself, and even the weather.
18. Something’s in my food.
We’ve all had this experience. Whether you are at a fancy restaurant or with friends for supper, there has been a moment where you are completely grossed out by finding something in your food that shouldn’t be there. At home, my younger kids used to walk over to the trash can and spit it out. Recently, we taught them to spit the bite into their napkin.
19. Ask where to sit.
Teach your child to check with his hostess or host before sitting down for a meal at someone’s house. If it’s a formal affair (and, yes, they will attend those one day!), teach your child to look for a place-setting card with their name on it.
What good manners are at the top of your list?