Think of the person you know who gets along well with everyone, the person everybody seems happy to see, the one who just lights up a room. Chances are that person’s charm is no accident. He or she probably knows how to make other people feel respected, even special. He or she undoubtedly has good manners.
“Good manners” doesn’t mean at all knowing which fork to use at dinner or how to tip a doorman. Manners aren’t old-fashioned or snobby. Instead, good manners means saying and doing the little things that make others feel comfortable and appreciated.
Now think of your own kid. Does he seem to shrug his way through social encounters? Is she tongue-tied in front of adults? Were you embarrassed by your child’s behavior with the relatives at Thanksgiving?
You owe it to your child to point him in the right direction. No one wants to rub people the wrong way. And since good social skills are often more important even than school skills, guiding your child towards good manners is a good idea.
Every child old enough to talk should always, as a matter of course:
- Say “Thank you” when someone does something nice for her, even something as simple as letting her go ahead through a doorway.
- Say “Please” when making a request, and say it, not in a pleading voice stuck on after the request itself (“Can I go to the movies? Pleeeeassse!”) but as part of the request (“Can I go to the movies, please?”)
- Say “Excuse me” when stepping in front of someone, even in the toy aisle at Target.
How does your two-year-old do with these? How about your 13-year-old?
Older children should always, as a matter of course:
- Say “Excuse me” after burping, coughing, or bumping into someone.
- Say “Excuse me?” or “Pardon me?” if she needs something to be repeated.
- Wait his turn patiently, especially deferring to people much older or younger than he is.
- Avoid interrupting adult conversations, except in an emergency.
- Say “Excuse me” if she just must interrupt adults.
- Ask for food at the table to be passed to him, instead of reaching past someone to get it.
- Ask before taking the last of anything, like the last cookie.
- Sit patiently even through boring events.
- Know how to meet someone new, by saying “How do you do?” or “Pleased to meet you.”
- Know how to respond when someone asks “How are you?” or some other social nicety.
In addition, of course, older children should know the difference between language they can use with their friends and language they should use in more formal situations with adults. There is a time and a place for profanity, joking, and mocking laughter. Knowing how to tell what behavior is appropriate in what situations is a great advantage to your child.
How do you teach this stuff? By example, of course, and even by outright instruction. Especially if you think your child will not know how to behave in a new situation, let her know ahead of time what the expectations are. It’s only fair.
If your child’s other parent isn’t socially smooth, don’t worry. Focus on your own behavior and your child’s. You aren’t your partner’s parent but you are the parent of your own kid.
Practice makes perfect and luckily there are plenty of chances to practice good manners. They aren’t for special occasions only. Good manners are for every single day. Give your child the advantages good manners bring. Set him or her on the path to being the one other people like to be around.
© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Developmentally Appropriate Parenting, at your favorite bookstore.