Start Young – Teach Children to have Good Manners

Start Young – Teach Children to have Good Manners

There’s an entire industry (that I now belong to) that is somewhat founded on the fact that most parents don’t teach their children to have good manners.

Of course, there are those very necessary etiquette experts who focus on unique situations for which knowing the general rules of etiquette simply isn’t enough. For international travelers, it’s impossible to learn all the rules from all the world’s diverse cultures so products like the AppPropo mobile app or etiquette classes can be a real necessity. And there are experts who focus on proper etiquette for extraordinary circumstances, for instance, when meeting heads of state and royalty. They serve a real purpose as most people (outside of royal households) have no need to learn how to speak with a Queen (only when spoken to) or how to address the Pope (His Holiness). 
But basic, everyday rules of good behavior really should to be learned at a young age and this should start at home. By establishing that good behavior is expected and is usually reciprocated, children are set for a life time of good citizenship, better relationships, and more success in all facets of their lives. 

What should be taught and when? 
While there are no hard fast rules, here are some guidelines worth considering.

Please and Thank you:
As soon as your baby begins handing you objects, you should say “thank you” each time you receive anything.  If you want your baby to give up something, remember to say “please”. Toddlers should be expected to say “please” and “thank you” and should be prompted to do so as soon as they begin to talk. Reinforce these rules with older children who might just be testing you.

As much as babies and toddlers love to play with their food (and experts say we should allow them to do so), begin each meal with having your child hold an eating utensil in his or her hand. Once a child has the coordination to effectively use those utensils, encourage him or her to use them properly and exclusively. Different countries use different utensils in different ways; make sure you know how to use the proper utensil in your culture. Always use them properly yourself and expect your children do the same. And please don’t take your children to fine dining restaurants until they are ready to sit through a meal and have the table manners needed. 

Shaking hands and greeting people:
Here again, different cultures have different rules regarding shaking hands. But whatever your society’s expectations are, this can start at a very young age. Where handshakes are the norm, begin having your child shake hands as properly as possible, as early as possible. They may not even need to be able to walk to do this. The same goes for bowing or any other motion your culture supports. Be sure that you always greet people using your best manners, especially when you child is around. Then encourage them to do the same.

Phone Manners:
No child should be using a phone (for conversation) until they can master the task. Of course it’s cute to put them on with Grandma even before they can speak just so she can hear them say… well anything. But no one outside the immediate family should be subjected to this. While every child is different, by the time a child is 7 or 8 they can usually learn how to: answer the phone politely with a simple “hello”, correctly take a written message, and say goodbye. They should also be taught to how make a phone call and politely ask for the person they wish to speak with (more of an issue before everyone had their own phone, but not obsolete as one day they will need to use the phone for work). They need to see you not answering your phone at the dinner table and they should not be allowed to do that either.

Of course these are but a few strategies and a few areas where proper etiquette needs to be learned; there are so many others. But by starting with the easy ones, your child will be more open to learning and adopting good manners their whole lives. And basic, core manners will be so ingrained that as adults they will behave politely on autopilot.

Don’t forget, as your children’s first teacher: the best way to teach is by example. Good manners learned by mimicking good manners are those that become instinctive and last a lifetime.

Share this Post