It is never too early to start teaching manners to a child. In fact, the earlier you start, the better. The key to good manners is to make them such a habit that they become automatic.
Trust me, start now. By arming your children with good manners, you are creating a foundation from which to build a strong character.
Here’s how you start:
1. Model desirable behavior and manners.
Kids take in everything we do…everything! Our good and bad behaviors are watched and studied carefully by our little ones. Children and adults alike imitate the behaviors they see around them. Create a polite and mannered environment by doing the best you can. It's simple: Always say please and thank you, use a polite tone, don’t curse, be respectful to others, avoid road rage, and use proper table manners. You set the standard from which children learn.
2. Introduce courteous words early.
Teaching sign language to babies and toddlers has many proven benefits. Be sure to include words like please, thank you, and sorry. The earlier you can get your children using their manners when participating in social interactions, the more natural it will become for them. It takes a long time for this habit to form, and it is our job as parents and caregivers to constantly insist on hearing these "magic words."
3. Eat dinner together as a family.
Family dinner is a great time for parents to teach and reinforce good manners. The breakdown of the family dinner has resulted in many kids missing out on proper manners that were commonplace in generations past. Not outdated traditions, but basic things like setting the table properly, holding and using utensils correctly, waiting for everyone to be served before eating, engaging in appropriate dinner conversation, excusing oneself when getting up from the table, clearing your place, and pitching in with cleanup. When families have dinner together on a regular basis, good etiquette becomes naturally ingrained.
4. Encourage kids to write thank-you notes for gifts.
As technology has increased, certain practices have decreased. Take thank-you cards, for example. While thank-you notes can be emailed, I prefer a good old-fashioned, handwritten, snail-mail thank-you. Writing a thank-you note, whether it be handwritten or emailed, is not only "good manners," but it also reinforces the concept of gratitude. Have your children write thank-you cards for gifts they have received. Obviously at the beginning, this is something the parent does, but you can include a quote about the gift from the child in the card, have them sign their own name, include a picture they drew, or involve them in another way.
5. Assign chores.
When children are responsible for picking up after themselves and keeping things tidy at home, these same expectations will be easier and natural to follow when they are outside of their home. Recent research also suggests that chores build character, develop confidence, and create a sense of pride in children who do them.
6. Do not let your kids interrupt.
Children will seek and demand our attention every second if we allow them to. As parents, it is our duty to teach our children how to act in social situations—this includes conversational turn-taking and not interrupting.
7. Make eye contact and deliver a firm handshake when meeting new people.
Children need to be taught what's polite when meeting new people as well as greeting people with whom they are already acquainted. A great way to teach this is through role-playing. Practice making good eye contact, having a firm handshake, and using courteous salutations such as, "Nice to meet you!" and "Good to see you again!" Too often I see parents making excuses for why their child has acted aloof, "Oh they are shy…" The best way to overcome that "shyness" is not by excusing it but rather equipping them with the skills that empower them to overcome it.
I have never heard a parent or adult complain to another that someone’s kid was too polite. Good manners can never hurt someone’s character; they only improve it.
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