Helping your child become the well0mannered child you know they are
Where did you learn to say that? Don’t talk with your mouth full. What’s the magic word? Don’t interrupt me. As parents we beg, plead, nag and cajole our children into using their manners but to what avail? We don’t just want our children to know what fork to use at a fancy restaurant. We want them to be well-rounded members of society who are kind and courteous. But how do we get there? How can you get rid of bad manners? Read on to find out.
1. Be a role model.
Our children look to us for guidance in life, and manners are no different. If we curse, forget our please and thanks, and chew with our mouths open, how can we expect our children to do differently?
We need to be on our ‘best behaviour’ all the time so our children can learn good manners from us, not bad ones. Does this mean that you’re not allowed to get mad? No. This just means that you need to regulate your emotions and show how to deal with situations that arise in a mannerly fashion.
2. Set clear guidelines for your family.
Be clear on what is expected of your children from the start. Do you expect them to ask to be excused before leaving the table? Don’t lecture them after the fact if you haven’t been explicit in your expectation.
You may get backlash from this at first: ‘but mom Joey doesn’t have to do that!’ If you hear this, you can answer that ‘in our family we *insert kind manner you want to instil here.*’ This is not implying that one way is better than the other it’s just stating that in your family this is what you expect.
Similarly it is ok to uphold guests in your house to the same standards you have set, so feel free to let guests know those expectations if they need to or when they have not met that expectation in a polite manner. For instance, you could say that ‘in our house we wait until everyone is seated before starting to eat, I’d really appreciate it if you could wait too please’.
3. Be realistic in your expectations.
It may not be realistic for your three year old to sit quietly at the dinner table, unfold their napkin into their lap and be at the table for an hour. On the other hand a three year old can certainly ask you to pass the butter with a please.
Children at a very young age can be taught simple manners. As a parent if your child has asked for something and hasn’t said please feel free to wait, give them time to think about how to ask you nicely (and that includes tone of voice).
Manners come with time and practice so be patient and keep modelling what you want to see and hear from your children.
4. Teach empathy.
A lot of what we consider good manners is thinking about other people and putting them first. This can be difficult for children who are naturally self-centred beings, but empathy is a skill that can be taught.
Try and get your child to put themselves in someone else’s shoes. How would you feel if you gave someone a gift and they forgot to thank you? How would you feel if you had your hands full and the person in front of you just closed the door instead of holding it for you?
5. Read about it.
Children’s literature is always a good place to turn when dealing with difficult behaviours, in this case getting rid of bad manners. The Berenstein Bears Forget their Manners is a good book on this topic, as is Joy Berry’s Every Kid’s Guide to Good Manners.
6. Label the behaviour not the child.
It is ok to call your child out when they are using bad manners but how we do that matters. Try and avoid labelling the child by saying ‘you have such bad manners’ or ‘you are so rude’. Instead let them know that what they are doing is not acceptable and help them find a better way.
By not stepping in right away and yelling ‘you say sorry right now young lady’ they take ownership over what they’ve done, which also helps problem solve a solution. It is also okay to say, after they’ve solved their problem, ‘in our family we also say “I’m sorry” when we accidentally hurt someone (or something) to show that we feel badly, remember when I bumped you with my elbow when I was making dinner? I said “I’m sorry for bumping you” and gave you a kiss?’
Apologizing and using the word ‘sorry’ should be meaningful so from the beginning you could let them know that sorry means either a) it was an accident or b) you are not going to do that again.
7. Practice makes perfect.
Manners aren’t something that’s learned overnight, they are social skills that take practice. Your job as the parent is one of the coach, not the enforcer. We can help guide our children to behave in mannerly ways but seldom can we police them into doing so.
Catch your kids being good. Part of being the coach is encouraging the positive. Make sure they know that there are also cases where manners can be set aside. If it’s an emergency you won’t want them to wait until you’re done your conversation you’ll want to know now. And differentiating between a problem and an emergency may take practice, so try and be patient while you work through it.
8. Set your child up for success.
If you are going to be attending a church service where your child will need to sit quietly for 30 minutes to an hour, then be sure they’ve had a chance to run around and be active before that.
If you’re expecting your child to sit in the shopping cart while you chat with your neighbour Sue at the grocery store, be sure to bring something for them to do or have a snack on hand so they won’t get fussy because they are hungry looking at all that food. Children who are well rested, well nourished, and have had their attention bucket filled will have an easier time behaving in a mannerly way.
Let’s face it: we all want to live in a society where manners are used daily. The first time your child holds the door for someone or genuinely says ‘I’m sorry’ when they hurt someone (on purpose or not) your heart will swell and you’ll know that all your hard work is paying off. Until then, remember the golden rule: ‘do unto others as you want them to do unto you.’ Treat your children with respect and using your manners and hopefully they’ll do the same.