Let’s start with timing. When are kids usually ready to start learning manners? The earlier, the better. Now, you can’t expect your newborn to say, “Please change my diaper,” but most kids should start using manners around two-and-a-half.
- Toddlers between two and three can use phrases such as “please,” “thank you,” and “may I?” if you act as a role model. Use the terms yourself so that he can hear you saying them.
- At age three, kids are be able to greet family members with “Hello,” wash their hands before and after meals, and stay seated at the dinner table. This is possible if you greet your child, wash your hands together, and bring crayons or games to a restaurant to distract them from running around.
- At age four, kids can compose a thank-you note after receiving a present. Write the note yourself and ask her what she’d like to say; ask her to sign her name or draw a picture to accompany it. When kids are old enough to read and write, create a fill-in-the-blank thank you note for them to fill out, like a Mad Libs game. Go to realsimple.com/thankyou to print out a sample copy.
- At age five, children can greet adults with eye contact and a hand shake and answer the telephone. Practice with him before meeting the adult and give him background details on the person he will meet. Role play telephone situations.
Dinner Table Manners
- Have a special family party with your kids to teach them polite dinner etiquette. Use a tablecloth and place mats and serve special food. Show them how to wipe their mouths with the corner of a napkin. Ask for and pass food around the table. show them the correct way to use their knife and fork. “See how Daddy’s using his knife and fork? That’s how grown-ups eat—let’s see if you can do it, too!” Sometimes children have a hard time using adult-sized utensils, so consider bringing along smaller, plastic knives and forks. Soon, kids will learn to imitate these manners.
- Before going to the special dinner, discuss where you are going, what will happen there, who will be there, and what kinds of foods and beverages will be served.
- Discuss possible dinner scenarios and ideal reactions. If there’s food at the table that a child does not like, teach him to avoid impulsive outbursts like shouting, “Yuck!” but he doesn’t have to say, “It’s my favorite food,” either. Find a middle-ground phrase they like, such as, “No, thank you. I don’t care for asparagus.”
- Don’t be afraid to add a little humor to encourage good manners. It will keep you relaxed and will put the evening in perspective. If your kids are diving under the table, say something like, “Kevin, what are you looking for under there? Buried treasure? Monkeys? You must not be looking for your dinner because you’re dinner’s up here!”
- Use a one-word cue to remind them of polite dinner gestures. For instance, saying “napkin” should remind them to put their napkin on their lap.
- Treat outings as special, privileged events and if your children won’t stay seated, they don’t get to stay at the party and you have to leave.
- At a special dinner gathering, the best bet for your kids is for them to watch the hostess. Give them the challenge to follow her manners.
Concerts and Special Events
- Sometimes children aren’t sure when to applaud at concerts. When the music is playing, the three things they should remember are: be quiet, stay put, and don’t clap until the piece is over (or until everyone else is clapping, just to be safe).
- Usually concerts have an age limit, and by the time they’re that old, they know a little more about behavior. Until children understand how to and are able to behave at concerts, leave them at home.
- If your kids are too disruptive in a concert, it’s best that you take them out of the hall rather than let them make noise.
- Children should not kick chairs in front of them. Sometimes it’s best to seat your children in their own chairs because with a child on your lap, people behind you may have a hard time seeing the performance.
- Explain beforehand the hard work and effort the performers have gone to in order to give the performance. Children can show their appreciation by behaving well and not making noise to ruin the show.
- If children pay attention to the conductor and the musicians, it will keep their mind focused on the performance. Ask them to find their favorite instruments or singers.
- Point out when people are polite and say, “Wasn’t that a polite thing to do?” Doing so will reinforce the importance of having good manners. Praise your children when they are polite.
- Use a toy telephone to teach your kids correct telephone etiquette. Make a list of what they should say when answering the phone.
- “Hello, Smith residence.”
- If the caller asks to speak to someone else in the house, the child should say, “Just a minute, please.”
- If the requested person is not available, your child should take down the caller’s number or ask him or her to please call back.
- Remember, your children should never say that a parent is not home, but rather that he or she is unavailable.
- Show kindness to animals by showing your children how to gently stroke stuffed animals. See how they react to your own pets or neighbors’ pets.
- Sometimes when children lose their tempers, they lash out, hit, and mistreat others. Teach your children to hold their hands together and count to ten in a silly way if they feel angry. For example, they could say, “One spider leg, two spider leg,” etc.
- Tell your kids that honesty is the best policy and to return lost money or toys to people. If you feel your child is lying to you, don’t accuse him; rather, express the importance of the truth and how special it is, and then wait for his conscience to work it out.
- Many parents dread bringing their children to the grocery store because something about the candy aisle makes kids go crazy. Ignore Try to divert them when they begin to display poor manners (and don’t give in) and then reward their good behavior. For example, if your child sits quietly in the cart, helps to pick out fruit, or carries a bag, let him pick out a treat. Soon, he’ll realize that good behavior reaps rewards.
- To master the handshake technique, tell your children to look the new person in the eye and hold out their right hand. Role play together, pretending to meet new people such as the president, Mickey Mouse, or the latest celebrity. Include a nicety such as “It’s nice to meet you.”