Manners & Etiquette for Children
I’m not an expert but I am learning everyday and I hope to instill good manners, etiquette, core values and ethics in my kids. Introducing them to the complex world of social interaction may seem a daunting task. But the basic principle for raising a thoughtful, courteous child is not at all complex – do what you preach. Always be the person you want your child to be (e.g., respectful, tolerant, considerate, honest, etc). Be patient. I wouldn’t expect my 1 & 3-year-old to fully grasp whatever I try to teach them or to behaviour exactly the way I wish they would. These will take a while, a long while, but I will stick to it. I believe the manners will sink in and become part of their behaviour. Last but not least, be CONSISTENT. I can’t emphasise this enough. You need to make sure both daddy and mummy are on the same page. If one parent decides the rules are too stuffy, it will undermine the other’s parent’s work and cause strife.
If I may, let me share my two cents worth of thought on learning/teaching good manners and etiquette.
We’ll start with respect.
This is one of the most important thing I felt my kids should learn. Everyone deserves to be respected, even the little ones. And they all deserve a degree of privacy.
- If the door is closed, it is respectful to knock and wait for permission to enter.
- If you want to borrow something, don’t just help yourself, always ask permission and make sure you return whatever it is you borrowed. Make sure you return it in the same or better condition.
- Never go looking through another person’s private possessions without their permission, that is extremely bad mannered.
- Clean up after yourself. Don’t leave toys lying around, flush the toilet after use, place soiled clothes in the laundry basket, return used dishes to the sink. And I will probably get my kids to wash their own dishes when they are older.
- Be a good sport. The loser needs to learn to accept that in good grace. It is good etiquette to thank the opposing team, shake hands and say, “well done!”.
- Try really hard not to embarrass anyone. Just think how you would feel under the same circumstances. So don’t use embarrassment as a lesson in manners and etiquette for children, just put yourself in their position.
- Teach your child to wait for their turn to speak and not to interrupt when you are speaking. I am still trying to make this work.
- When asking for something, say “please”.
- When receiving something, say “thank you”.
- If you must interrupt in a conversation, say “excuse me”.
- Do not comment on other people’s physical characteristics unless, of course, it’s to compliment them, which is always welcome.
GOOD MANNERS & ETIQUETTE IN PUBLIC PLACES
- Cover your mouth when you cough, sneeze or yawn, and don’t pick your nose in public.
- Give up your seat to the old, handicapped or pregnant.
- Do not eat on public transport. The smell of your food can be quite stomach churning to other passengers.
- Place your garbage in a bin, imagine if everybody just scattered their rubbish throughout the streets.
- To bully is cowardly. You wouldn’t like someone to do it to you, right?
- Saying so, don’t be bullied. Be polite, remember your manners and stand up for yourself. Even if it is an adult who tries to bully you, you have the right to defend yourself.
- Open the door for others. If you do enter first, don’t let the door slam in the face of those behind you.
- Before entering a lift, allow the people inside the lift to exit first.
- Wash hands before eating.
- Do not bring toys to the dining table.
- Place serviette on lap when seated, it is good etiquette and useful too.
- Wait for everybody to be seated before starting to eat.
- Don’t stretch across the table, ask someone to pass what you need.
- Say please and thank you.
- Don’t talk when you have food in your mouth and don’t stuff your mouth too full.
- Cut your food to mouth size pieces, don’t just stab the chicken chop and take bites from the fork.
- Chew with your mouth closed and don’t smack your lips noisily.
- Say “excuse me” when you burp.
- Eat slowly, don’t gobble up the food. Someone took a long time to prepare the food, enjoy it slowly.
- Don’t wave your cutlery around, it is dangerous. Place your cutlery on the edge of the plate when not in use.
- Use your cutlery and not your hands to eat.
- Don’t put your knife in your mouth.
- Don’t play with food.
- Rude comments about the food is not only bad mannered, it is also hurtful to the person who cooked the meal.
- Sit up straight, no slouching, no elbows on the table.
- Ask to be excused from the table.
- Take your plates and cutlery to the kitchen.
- Don’t pick or blow your nose at the table, excuse yourself and go to the bathroom.
- Do not pick anything out of your teeth, it’s gross. If it bothers you that bad, excuse yourself and go to the bathroom to pick.
- When eating at someone’s home, always thank the host even if the food isn’t to your liking. Remember, someone took time, energy, and expense to prepare the food, show your appreciation.
- Even if you are at home, thank the person who prepared your meal. He or she will really appreciate it!
HOW TO START
Manners can be taught as soon as your child understands what you are saying. Also, children need coaching and reminders on manners throughout their childhood. Praise more loudly than you fuss, correct with simple explanations, and don’t offer rewards for good behaviour. The explanations help kids feel empowered to make good decisions next time, and rewards only serve as a way to teach kids to seek rewards. Feeling good about one’s fine manners and etiquette will eventually be enough reward and will last a lot longer than a toy or treat.
Keep it simple. Start with one thing then work on that one thing for a week and then move on to the next. Kids model after you, so the best way to teach your children how to be polite and courteous people is to walk your talk. Sometimes I forget my manners and Sonia will remind me (like how I would remind her). “Mummy, I passed you the apple but you didn’t say ‘thank you’. You must say ‘thank you’ you know?” There were also times when I passed her the milk bottle and she would say “Thank you, mummy”. But I’ve forgotten to say “welcome”. And she would really bite on it and go on and on about me forgetting to say “welcome”. Talking about leading by example… opss!
Once your child starts displaying good manners, be sure to give recognition for the behaviour. Whenever Sonia or Arnold does something right, I will praise them in front of our family and they feel really good about it. When they know that they have done a good job, they are proud of it and will remember to display good manners. Soon, it will become part of their nature.
A useful way is to give your child some lead-in words or ask a question. For example “What should you say now?”, and the child will almost immediately follow with either “thank you”, “you are welcome” or “I’m sorry”.
Never allow a bad behaviour to pass. Your child will be confused. For example, why is it that sometimes it’s alright to play with toys at dinner and sometimes not? Parents need to be consistent, and more important, sing the same tune.
MY EXPERIENCE WITH SONIA AND ARNOLD
Arnold is too young to understand all of the above. Perhaps only the simpler ones like knocking on a closed door before entering, placing his soiled clothes in the laundry basket, and wave to greet (sometimes blowing kisses too). We try to lead by examples and tell him what are good and bad manners, hopefully he absorbs what we are trying to convey. We sees that he takes cue from his sister, so I reckon he will be learning a lot from Sonia in time to come.
Sonia understands most of the manners and etiquette stated above but do not adhere to all of them. KIDS! I’m still trying to enforce basic manners. For example, she interrupts whenever I’m in a conversation and expects me to stop to engage with her. She did say “excuse me” but wouldn’t wait for her turn. I guess she assumes that by saying “excuse me” I should stop everything else and listen to what she has to say. I’m still trying to educate her on that but like I previously mentioned, it will take a while, a long long while. I will not give up! These will take my kids a long way.
I would love to hear about your experiences and views on inculcating good manners and etiquette for children and how you have dealt effectively with various situation.