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7 Tips for Teaching Manners to Your Children

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Updated on Aug 27, 2012

From teachers and dance instructors to frustrated parents, many adults are appalled at children’s manners today. Most moms and dads are perplexed on how to teach their child good manners and help good habits stick, so their little one retains and practices what she’s learned.

Teaching your kid proper etiquette isn’t as daunting as a task as you may think. To be effective, it’s important to make manners as big of a priority as getting your child to brush her teeth. With a little time and effort, you’ll be able to effectively help your wild child blossom into a little lady. Here are some tips to get you started:

  • Family support. From grandparents to your spouse, make sure that everyone’s on board with what “good manners” means to you—and respects your stance. If your spouse burps at the table and laughs about it with your child, or if grandma doesn’t enforce the “no jumping on furniture” rule at her house, they’re inadvertently sabotaging your program. If you’re sending mixed signals, how will your child learn acceptable manners or good behavior? Encourage (and beg if necessary) relatives to agree with and enforce your rules and practices of behavior and manners at all times.
  • Sound positive. Avoid empty threats to ship your little one off to manners camp if her etiquette doesn’t improve. This negativity sends the message that a manners camp is dreadful—and therefore learning manners is dreadful. Instead, make polishing social skills a fun and positive experience by explaining all of the benefits your child will receive from having good manners, such as being invited on more play dates and having her teacher enjoy having her in class. Positive language is always a better motivator than negative language, so use words that make being polite sound like an enjoyable—and necessary—part of life.
  • Role-play. Show your budding Miss Manners how to be polite by acting out various situations before they happen. Be sure to demonstrate the “wrong way” to do something as well, for reference. For example, have your kid practice shaking hands with you before walking into someone’s house. This way, the acceptable behavior’s fresh in her mind, giving her confidence that she’s making a good impression. Don’t be discouraged if she enjoys acting out the impolite interactions more than gracious ones—it’s just her way of having fun. With enough practice, she’ll master great manners in no time.
  • Eat dinner as a family. Getting the entire clan together for meals gives kids security and confidence about their home life. Breaking bread together typically leads to a happier and more cohesive family unit, and meals offer the perfect opportunity to teach manners. Setting the table is a great manners exercise for youngsters, just be sure to add any sharp knives to the table yourself. Remind your child to say please and thank you, and discuss appropriate conversation topics. Life lessons are learned by interacting as a family, so make group mealtime a priority in your routine.
  • Incorporate manners into your daily life. Make manners habitual with daily practice. Writing proper thank you notes after receiving a gift, eating out at a restaurant, always saying please and thank you, and holding doors open for other people are all courtesies you can practice with every day. Before bringing your child to “prime time” at a restaurant, check out kid-friendly places where you won’t know anybody. This way, your kid can put her restaurant etiquette to the test in a relaxed environment, where you both can speak freely about what to do—and what not to do.
  • Repetition. A key to learning anything new is repetition. Practice makes perfect, so insist that your child always say please and thank you, set the table every chance she can, and shake hands with adults whenever possible. If she frequently forgets to say please and thank you, tell her you can’t hear what he’s saying until those words are used in his sentence. If she complains about having to set the table all of the time, make it a game by timing her and challenging her to complete the task faster than yesterday (neatness counts). After awhile the repetition will pay off, and she’ll have successfully incorporated these practices into her daily routine.
  • Outside influence. Your child’s more likely to listen to someone that isn’t you, so find an outside influence to help establish good manners. Seek out teachers, grandparents, and friends to help you host a politeness bootcamp. Even if the message itself is the same thing you’ve been telling her for ages, a different messenger is always more effective than the same old one that is heard all of the time.

Teaching your child good manners can seem like a lot of work. Eliminate stress and frustration by using these ways to incorporate and practice good manners into your child’s daily life. Give it time, and you’ll see a positive payoff when you hear your child’s teachers, relatives, and her friend’s parents tell you what a polite and respectful kid you have. Raising a polite little lady isn’t always easy, but success is one of the most rewarding gifts of being a parent.

Elise McVeigh founded Elise McVeigh’s Life Camp in 2003 to help families balance their lives with skills learned through seminars, workshops and professional organization. Mrs. McVeigh’s Manners, a division of Elise McVeigh’s Life Camp, teaches etiquette to young children and university-aged students in a fun and effective way. Learn more at the Elise McVeigh Life Camp website.

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