In an age where the standard of social manners has sunk to an all time low and we’re surrounded by the media’s constant bombardment of bad behavior, is it really any wonder that there are so many ill-mannered children?
It’s a “David vs. Goliath” scenario. We’ve got rude cartoon characters, rude movies, rude games, rude music… our children are hit from every angle. As astute as some parents are at monitoring these influences, children are inevitably going to interact with other children whose parents may not be so “astute.” Shy of living on a desert island, there’s no way to completely shelter our children from the fallout of society’s general loss of manners. Nevertheless, we can certainly make the extra effort to teach our own children to strive towards a higher standard.
- The first and foremost way to teach good manners is to model them yourself. If you speak rudely to your spouse or child, your child will learn to speak rudely to you. If your family never eats dinner at the table with proper manners, why would your child know how to behave at a restaurant or with company?
- Monitor and restrict the media. Be extremely aware of what your child is watching and listening to. Just because they’re watching a cartoon or the Disney channel, doesn’t necessarily mean they’re watching something appropriate. Many cartoons have extremely rude behavior these days and the violence is not the slapstick humor of yesteryear. The Disney channel has a lot of “tween” and “teen” entertainment in the afternoons that is not appropriate for young children. There’s no safe ground by only allowing certain channels, you need to allow only certain programs. (PBS in the mornings is the exception to the rule, which has, even in this day and age, upheld an impeccable standard in children’s programming.)
- Positively reinforce good manners. Compliment polite behavior. “I liked the way you asked me for that.” “You’re eating so nicely.” “I’m so proud that you told your grandma thank you all by yourself.”
- Don’t respond to requests without a “please” or a “may I.” You can remind them with a simple, “What’s the magic word?” or “How are we supposed to ask when we want something?”
- Give your child age appropriate manners boundaries. A toddler eating with their hands is acceptable, but a school-aged child doing the same thing is not. Let your child know what’s appropriate for their age and when they have crossed the “boundary” line respond accordingly.
- Teach your child to be gracious when receiving gifts. Explain the behavior you expect from them prior to the event. “Today at your birthday party, you need to thank your friends for the gifts they bring you and not say anything that would hurt their feelings like, “I don’t like this” or “I already have this.”
- Teach courtesy and respect towards other people. Make your child aware of how their actions affect the people around them. “How would it make you feel if someone did this to you?” is a question that you should ask often, until they reach the point that they ask it of themselves. (Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everyone on the freeway had mastered this skill?)
- Teach them good listening skills and attentive behavior. Not only does this fall under the “good manners category,” but it also translates into a better education at school.
- Empower your child with the knowledge of proper social etiquette. Knowing how to handle any given social event from a wedding to a formal dinner will instill confidence and self worth.
- Read about manners and practice together. In addition to modeling your own example, another good way to introduce these skills is through reading a good book and then practicing what you’ve learned together. The American Girl Library has a wonderful book called, “Oops! The Manners Guide for Girls.” This book is fun to read and written for young girls. It’s direct and to the point with short chapters on everything you need to know about manners. A good one directed at boys is, “A Little Book of Manners for Boys.” Another great book to consider is, “ATCHOO: The Complete Guide to Good Manners.”