Teaching Manners to Children

Written by Donna McClintock, COO with Children’s Choice Learning Centers, Inc.


Are parents expecting too much when they insist that their preschool children routinely use polite manners? Is it okay to require them to say “please” and “thank you” to strangers? What should a parent do when a child refuses to use manners in public? How hard should a parent push? When does the issue between parent and child change from being about teaching manners to being about control?  How does a parent know?

Here are some general guidelines to consider:

*  Manners are the building blocks of empathy. Children need to learn early in life that manners make others feel special and are also a reflection of one’s own self-respect. Society expects and appreciates manners, and children are going to need social grace to succeed in life.

*  Children learn what they live, and the first step in teaching your children manners is to live out what you wish to instill in them. A child can instinctively spot a phony, and it is difficult to effectively teach your child the importance of manners if you do not model the behavior for him. Your message will eventually fall on deaf ears if you tell him that it is important to say “thank you” but never do.

*  Be precise when teaching manners. Most children do not understand generalities such as “Use your manners.” Offer your child specific guidance such as, “Say ‘please’ when you ask for a cookie and say ‘thank you’ when she gives it to you.”

*  Praise the specific behavior when your child covers his mouth to cough or says “excuse me” when he bumps into someone. Talk with him about how being polite makes others feel.

*  When a normally outgoing child refuses to cooperate in public, stay calm and be consistent. Is her lack of cooperation about being shy, not understanding the concept, or is about control? Consistent follow-through is necessary if you wish to instill in her the principle of good manners. It is perfectly okay to require her to give back a treat or take it away later if she refuses to say “thank you.” Explain that we do not take things that people give us without letting them know that we appreciate it. Again, consistency and calmness are the keys.

*  If your child continually refuses to cooperate, he might be trying to gain control over the situation in order to get your attention. To a child, negative attention is sometimes better than no attention. Spending one-on-one time with him will help him feel valued; and when he himself feels valued, he is more likely to empathize with others.

Teaching children manners is a process … and manners, much like other positive qualities, are often “caught” more than “taught.” As we improve our own manners, our children will notice. Say “please,” “thank you,” “excuse me,” and other polite phrases when addressing your child. She deserves the same respect that you expect her to show to others.

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