Teaching Your Child Manners

By Susan M. Keenan

Teaching Your Child Manners

O ne word can be used to sum up the best way for parents to teach their child manners- consistency.  Parents should be consistent in what they present to their child as the expected and proper rules of behavior.  The more consistent that you are, typically, the quicker the child learns.

Demonstrate good manners in order for your child to be able to do so.  Children should learn the social graces for behaving at social events such as family gatherings, holiday parties, and other special occasions that necessitate good behavior before the events occur. 

No parent wants to be known as the parent who cannot control his or her children.  Therefore, it is essential to teach your child to behave appropriately.  Simply telling your child to behave might not be enough.  Showing your child how to behave by example and teaching him to do so are key ingredients to a child who behaves respectfully and politely.

As soon as your child begins a behavior that merits specific manners, start to teach him exactly what is expected.  If you expect your child to use words such as please, thank you, and excuse me, then you must use these words as well. 

Use the words that you want your child to use even before he is capable of using them himself.  Once he is speaking and able to say these words, encourage him to do so by having him repeat the words after you.  If he forgets how to use courtesy in his dialogue, model the proper way to phrase requests and statements.

Learn to expect age appropriate politeness from your child.  In order to behave properly, a child must be able to comprehend what it is that you expect him to say or do.  For example, if you expect your child to eat with a fork or spoon, then you must encourage that behavior when the child is capable of grasping and holding the spoon or fork.  If you wish the child to cut their meat from the bone, for example, he must be able to handle the knife.

Even though not everyone demands it, teach your child to address adults with formality and respect.  Using the titles “sir” or “Mrs.” are indicators of respect and should be taught to the child early on.  If a particular adult tells the child the title is unnecessary, that is fine and you don’t need to insist that the child still uses the title.  Simply explain to young children that not everyone will react in the same manner and therefore he should continue to address adults with these titles until told otherwise.

Teach the basics of polite behavior to your child.  Teach him how to shake hands.  Teach him not to interrupt while others are speaking, perhaps one of the most difficult courtesies to extend to others.  Teach him to speak softly in public.  Teach him to behave properly and quietly in public areas such as libraries, churches, theaters, restaurants, and other public buildings.  Teach your child to ask permission first before using someone’s things.

If your child digresses, don’t wait to address the situation.  This might allow it to get worse because you are sending the message that the behavior or lack of courtesy is acceptable since you did not reprimand the child.  However, you should never reprimand the child in a public manner.  Be discreet and cursory in your initial comments.  Then, when the two of you arrive home, you can explain the difficulty at more length and in private.  You can ensure that your child understands what it is that he did not do appropriately or that he did inappropriately.

Enforce your rules and be consistent at all times.  Don’t bend the rules because you are on vacation or it’s the child’s birthday.  If necessary, work on a skill longer and focus on it to improve it to the level that you think it should be at.  Praise your child for his successful efforts.  Encourage him to be polite, but don’t do it in such a way that he becomes resentful and resistant.

Additionally, this training in social graces will benefit your child when he enters the world of working adults.  Teaching your child manners is an excellent way also to teach him tolerance.  Teaching your child the social graces will help to prepare your child to deal well with all kinds of individuals.

Of course, there is no need to incorporate every rule of proper behavior that is found in a book of social etiquette.  However, at least some of these rules should be followed.
Use the words and behavior that you expect from your child.  Children model their parents’ behavior and learn best from their parents’ example.  Therefore, set a good example for your child and your child will become someone who exhibits courtesy and good manners consistently.


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