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How to Teach Your Children Manners – and Why!

            Sometimes I look at my son’s peers and wonder what on earth their parents can be thinking.  These children are often downright rude.  They demand things instead of asking, they yell and scream instead of talking, they walk around the house while they eat their dinner, they never think to pick up a thing after themselves, and I very rarely hear even a simple “please” or “thank you.”
            No, they are not all like that, and they’re not like that all the time, but I find myself consistently wondering where manners went and why parents don’t seem to care anymore.
            One of our most basic jobs as parents is to teach our children how to get along in the world without us.  It’s called “socializing” and it’s critical to our children’s well-being.  We all like to be around people who are easy to be around; in other words, people who behave the way we expect them to.  That sounds pretty boring, maybe, but if you think about it, it’s true.  The people who annoy us are ignored or even picked on because they don’t “behave.”
But this isn’t the only, or even the best, reason why you should teach your children manners.  It’s about respect: basic respect for self and for others.  We show respect by being polite.  And, parents, we don’t teach our kids respect by yelling at them and telling them to “be nice.”  We teach them respect by respecting them, teaching them how to communicate in healthy and polite ways, and teaching them how to behave.
            Ugh, I hate that word “behave.”  But it’s true that learning how to behave in situations makes us able to react in appropriate, positive ways.  And that’s what life is about: learning how to respond in ways that will make us, and those around us, happy.  Teaching our kids how to be polite doesn’t turn them into little robots.  It simply allows them the space to be joyful and creative in ways that are appropriate for themselves and those around them.
            So, one of the ways that we help our children to be comfortable and get along in this world is to teach them manners.  How to make requests, how to show gratitude, how to ask for help, how to pick up after oneself and, yes, how to sit at the table and eat a meal. 

  • How to Make Requests: Teaching your children how to say “please” and how to ask for things using direct communication instead of whining and manipulating is key to their success in the world.  First of all, you must begin to model the correct way of asking.  “John, I need some help for a moment.  Would you please come give me a hand?”  “Mike, could you please pass the salt?”  Second, stop granting requests that are not made in polite ways.  They catch on really quickly when they keep hearing no’s.  This is what I say to my son: John, I’m not going to let you have that because you whined instead of asking.  Next time, say “Mom, may I please…” and I will be a lot more willing to hear your request.
  • How to Show Gratitude:  A simple “thank you” is one of the nicest things to hear.  Teaching your child to be grateful for what she has helps her to develop an appreciation for what IS and to demand less.  We do live in a material society, and I am not the only mom concerned with her children’s obsession with “stuff”.  Please and Thank You may seem elementary, but they can truly change your child’s entire outlook on life.
  • How to Ask for Help: Please teach your child how to ask for help.  The help sign was one of the first sign language words that our daughter ever learned.  She could ask for help before she could even say “mama.”  Being able to ask for help is so empowering for a child of any age.  Quite frankly, I was thirty years old before I learned how to ask for and accept help.  Empower your children to ask.  “Could you please…”
  • How to Pick Up After Oneself: Okay, most of us struggle with this one every single day.  No matter what it takes, you must empower your children to create a healthy, organized environment.  That means that they must help around the house.  Do not let them off the hook.  I see so many children come to my house and leave trash and food on the floor and I know they’re doing it at home, too.  My son still leaves food around sometimes and it seems like a battle that will never end.  But I know the importance of having a clean and healthy home so I keep on fighting and talking and nagging and reminding and reminding and reminding.  I know it’s worth it in the long run.
  • Table Manners: Have one meal a day (preferably dinner) where you all sit at the table and use your “company manners.”  Have your children learn how to set the table (forks on the left, knives and spoons on the right, glasses on the right, salad on the left, etc) and how to eat nicely, chewing with their mouths closed, and sitting in their seat until they are excused.  At one point, we had to set a fine for people who burped at the dinner table.  After two dollars, my son got the point.  Do whatever it takes to make mealtimes polite.  They will only learn these things at home and it is our job to prepare them for life out in the real world.  And believe me, in the future he’ll have a hard time getting a second date with his dream girl if he’s burping and running around the restaurant!

Remember, yelling at our kids is not the way to teach them how to be polite and respectful.  We must model the behavior we want to see and redirect them, time and again, until they learn.  And when they do learn how to be polite, they are such joys to be around! 

by: Shelly Walker




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