Every parent knows that please and thank you ARE the magic words! Around the 6-month mark of life, children begin to comprehend simple statements and directions and can learn to say thank you and please as a great start to teaching children manners. Many people begin with please and thank you by constantly doing the sign language version of them to accommodate a baby’s lack of verbal skills. The important thing is to incorporate manners into every day life so that children learn the basics of being polite as if it simply a normal part of being, rather than something to be rewarded for. This will help breed authentic children rather than those that are just keeping up appearances.
The world is full of rude adults and children. Manners is really not just about doing certain things like saying please, thank you, yes ma’am or sir, excuse me and I’m sorry. Teaching children manners is about teaching them respect for themselves and for other people. While anyone can mouth the words they know that others want to hear, it is something altogether different to instill a feeling of true gratitude, respect and generosity in a child. The younger this starts the more morally infused a kid will be, which will serve them well as they enter school and throughout life.
To have respect for someone else, one first has to respect themselves. Children have to learn that honesty and integrity are ways of life rather than casual acquaintances. Although this may seem like difficult lessons for a child, the raw truth is that they are eager to learn it. Toddlers are infamous for being egotistical and seeing themselves as though they are the center of the world. They are often overflowing with self-confidence and esteem that should be encouraged and fostered. Once it is lost, they will spend the better part of their life getting it back. The big surprise is that a toddler can believe they are the axis of the Universe and use those good feelings to extend to others through manners. Certainly, in young children it is vital to point out that they can’t always be first in line and that they can’t have everything they want in the moment they want it. The big part of teaching manners to children without shaming them is to make them aware of how good it feels to be respectful of others. They will feel pride when they let another child go in front of them and rather than point out that they were a bully on the playground; attentive praise should go to what they did right.
Another important aspect of teaching children manners is to explain to them that being polite, courteous and respectful in situations doesn’t mean that they have to let others walk all over them. Smothering their voice is not the point. Long gone are the years where children are to be seen and not heard and just because a child is saying something distasteful to the adults in their life doesn’t mean they are being rude. In fact, they are just being honest and true to their feelings in the process. Let them speak and they will be less likely to yell and holler. Afford them an outlet for their feelings, especially at home, and they will show less frustration to those outside of themselves. Let them feel as though their feelings are important and use what they say, what they do and how they react to situations to be the building blocks of great manners. While a mute, politically correct child may be a sheer delight at home or in the classroom there is no doubt a great deal of animosity and resentment building up in them. Part of manners is being able to say what you mean, say what you feel be heard and do it without using a negative curriculum to achieve it. They will feel respected and be 100 times more likely to respect others in their life.
Obviously, one of the major influences on a child’s manners is what they see their parents doing. If dad goes off at the grocery store clerk, mom acts like a fool and is self-righteous rather than constrained and mom and dad never show their child manners in return a powerful lesson is being learned. You can bet your last dollar that what your child is really learn is how to pretend to be mannerful rather than feel manners as part of their being. They also can easily notice when mom and dad are pretending to be respectful of others without meaning it. If you say thank you, smile graciously and then berate the experience in front of your child you are showing them how to lie to themselves and to others. The image being left behind is that ‘It is okay to say one thing and mean another’ and that manners on the inside are really not that important.
There is nothing more disturbing than an apology that is not meant. When I’m sorry or Excuse Me are said through gritted teeth as though they taste sour, the manner lesson is lost. A child should use their manners because they want to and because they mean it. They should use manners because they realize that the great big circle of life will reward them for their respect both inward and outward They should enjoy using manners because they are emotionally rewarded for them, because it suits their confidence and because they are learning respect on the many levels of their life. Teaching children manners is not that difficult and is one of those things that when lived, is sort of just passed on as easily as eye color. When a parent uses a child’s internal system of feelings as a guide to teaching manners, not only does it come easy but it is also authentic and supportive of a successful life.