How to Teach Your Children Manners
Most of us know that manners are important. Teaching them is sometimes more difficult, as it may be hard for children to see why they need to learn these good etiquette. At first, teach manners simply as a rule; e.g., the child can’t have a drink until she puts a please with her request. As children grow up, you can start explaining why manners are important.
An article on the Child Development Institute website explains, “There are three important ideas behind the good manners we use today: custom, consideration, and common sense. Custom is the habit of doing certain things… Consideration is the most important idea behind all good manners. Almost always, being considerate is being well-mannered. Consideration is simply thinking about the way the other person feels. Being rude to someone is bad manners, not because a book says so, but because it causes hurt feelings. Nearly all good manners have in element of common sense. If you are standing in the rear of a crowded elevator, it’s not reasonable—nor good manners—to try pushing your way to the front so you can get out first.”
Teach by Example
The best way to teach your children manners is to demonstrate those manners yourself. I noticed that both my daughters very quickly picked up saying “thank you” because I always said it to them. If they offered me something or tried to help me, I said “thank you” to them. However, it was harder to teach them to say “please” because I wasn’t in the habit of saying “please” to them—I usually just told them what to do. When I started adding more “please” to my own vocabulary, my daughters also started using it more.
Children also observe when you use these manners not only with them, but in your interactions with others. Using “excuse me” in a busy store or saying “thank you” to the grocery store clerk are great teaching moments. My daughters have often asked me, “Why did you say that?” and this give me a chance to explain that it is polite to say that because the clerk helped me or that we need to let people know when we are trying to pass them.
Magic Words for Toddlers
Most of us have heard an adult (or ourselves) say to a toddler, “What’s the magic word?” We all know that the magic word is “please,” but Keith Boyd and Kevin Osborne expand on this concept. In their book The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Parenting a Preschooler and Toddler, Too, they suggest, “You can heighten your child’s motivation to use these words by telling her that each phrase has a secret power. Toddlers want to feel powerful. So let your child know that with just one or two words, she can exercise a very special and magic effect on other people—and that these magic words give her the power even to influence grown-ups” (excerpted at Family Education).
The “magic words” that Boyd and Osborne recommend are “please,” “thank you,” “excuse me” or “pardon me,” and “I’m sorry.” Encourage your child to use these phrases and don’t respond unless they do. You may have to prompt children, but don’t give in to temper tantrums.
Reinforce Good Manners
When you see your child demonstrating the type of manners that you like, comment on it. Giving positive reinforcement for good behavior is more powerful than giving negative reinforcement for bad behavior. This can be a simple comment such as, “Thank you for asking nicely. I’d be happy to get you some milk.”
Be consistent and persistent; learning manners takes time, but the reward of well-mannered children is worth it.
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