Parenting Solutions: Bad Manners (page 5)
Is discourteous, rude, flippant, or disrespectful; needs repeated "behave yourself" reminders; lacks social skills for certain settings; doesn't understand the need for common courtesy
The Change to Parent For
Your child learns age-appropriate etiquette skills and habits of civility and uses them in a respectful and courteous manner without reminders in everyday life.
Question: "Our 'sweet' son seems in need of a "manners makeover." We're going to a family reunion this coming summer and I'm concerned I'll be mortified. Is it too late???"
Answer: It's never too late to teach good manners—in fact, many businesses now require their adult employees to take etiquette courses. But the best way to boost courtesy is to work on just one or two manners at a time, then have your child practice them at home until he can use them without your etiquette reminders. If you start those courtesy lessons ASAP, your son can arrive at the reunion as your "well mannered" and sweet kid whom you'll be proud to show off.
A survey by U.S. News & World Report revealed that nine out of ten Americans feel that the breakdown of civility is a problem, and nearly half rate the problem as extremely serious.1 Ninety percent of Americans polled said manners and good social graces have significantly eroded over the past ten years and that the situation is only getting worse. What's more, 93 percent of adults feel that the major cause of all rudeness is that parents have failed to teach respect to their kids.2 By failing to deliver those lessons, we are doing our kids a huge disservice, and for a number of reasons.
Scores of studies find that well-mannered children are more popular and do better in school. Teachers speak glowingly of them; parents make sure they are on the top of their kids' invite lists. Polite kids are just plain nicer to be around. Because courteous kids are more considerate of others' thoughts and feelings, they are also more respectful and a less selfish breed. Courteous kids also have an edge later in life: members of the business world tell us that their first interview choices are those applicants displaying good social graces. Whether you think it's time your child has a more intensive rudeness makeover or just a quick manners tune-up, here are the proven solutions to cultivate courtesy in your child, make respect a priority in your home, and teach crucial habits that will help him both now and forever in all areas of his life.
Signs and Symptoms
Every child has an "off day" and forgets his manners, but here are signs that indicate that your child needs a more serious manners tune-up:
- A typical response is an impolite tone (sarcastic or surly) delivered with disrespectful body language (rolling eyes, smirking, shrugging shoulders).
- Impolite behavior is now more frequent or becoming a habit.
- Constant reminders are needed to reinforce manners that you thought you had already taught.
- Discourtesy is causing friction in your everyday relationship and breaking down your family harmony.
- Social experiences and peer interactions (birthday or slumber parties, dinners, and so on) are hindered because your child lacks certain social graces or doesn't feel comfortable using them.
- Discourtesy is ruining his reputation among friends, parents, teachers, relatives, and family.
- You are seeing increasing disrespect, poor character, and diminishing moral intelligence.
Step 1. Early Intervention
- Prioritize courtesy. If you really want your child to be courteous (and what parent doesn't), then the first crucial step is to commit to raising a courteous child. The truth is, parents who raise well-mannered kids don't do so by accident. They are acutely conscious that they want their kids to become well mannered and polite, and simply put a bit more energy into that effort. Take a pledge from this moment on that you will look for simple everyday moments to reinforce politeness and the importance of good manners, so your kids will know that you just flat-out expect them to act in a civil, respectful, and courteous manner. Period.
- Be an example of courtesy. The easiest way for kids to catch good manners is by imitating others. So don't forget to say please when you ask your child for something and thank you when you receive it. And always treat your child with courtesy and respect so that he knows that's how you expect him to treat others.
- Point out the value of courtesy. Discuss the value of good manners and why you think your child should behave politely. "Using good manners helps you gain the respect of your friends and teachers at school." Also explain why he should use the new manner you're introducing to him: "Shaking hands and introducing yourself is a great way to meet new friends." "Grandma always loves it when you show your good manners." Once kids understand the impact good manners have on others, they're more likely to use them in their daily behavior.
- Get others on board. The best way to raise a courteous kid is to get other caring adults to reinforce your courtesy-building efforts. Ask the babysitter, the day-care worker, Grandpa, siblings, and your parenting partner to support your efforts. "Please remind him to say 'thank you.'" "We're working on 'excuse me' this week. Make sure he remembers."
- Identify the underlying cause of incivility. If your child has a more serious case of rudeness, then it's time to dig deeper and discover the reason. Here are the most common reasons kids backslide in the manners department. Check the ones that apply to your child or situation
- Manners are not modeled or made a high priority at home.
- Your child was never taught particular etiquette skills.
- Impolite peers or adults are being imitated.
- Your child is fatigued, stressed, or ill.
- Music, movies, or TV that flaunt rudeness are having a bad influence.
- You're allowing him to get away with bad manners.
- Your child is testing his limits.
Step 2. Rapid Response
- Target manners that need tuning up. The first step to your new response is to look over the Eighty-Five Crucial Manners to Teach Your Child (p. 145) and choose a few manners your child now lacks that would boost his courtesy quotient. Or just watch your child a bit more closely in social settings and assess which manners need tuning up. Feel free to make a long list, but select only one or two new etiquette skills to teach each week.
- Model the new manner. Kids learn new skills best by seeing an example of what you expect, not by hearing your lecture. So show your child the manner you want him to learn. Suppose you want to teach your child to make an introduction. "I'll pretend I'm meeting you for the first time: 'Hi! I'm Jane. What's your name? Do you live in Reno?'" Now he has a model to copy, and you can expect him to use it.
- Hold manner "lookouts." Point out others who are using the skill. That way your child will see when and how the manner should be used in action: "When we go out to dinner, let's watch to see how many people remember to put their napkin in their lap before eating." "We're going to Grandma's today. Let's see how she meets us at the door like a good hostess." (Just do remind your kids to keep their "manner discoveries" quiet so that they don't blare out their findings to the world.)
- Acknowledge courtesy attempts. Support your child's courtesy attempts by letting him know they are appreciated: "Wow, nice manners! Did you notice the smile on Grandma's face when you thanked her for dinner?" "Waiting for the others to sit down before you began eating was polite." Just remember to point out exactly what your child did that was polite so that he'll be more likely to repeat the courteous action again.
- Be consistent! Good manners do not develop naturally, but instead are the result of considerable effort, patience, and diligent training. There's no way around it. So keep encouraging your child's efforts and teaching new manner skills until you get the results you hope for. And don't settle for less.
- Set a consequence for repeat discourtesy. If your kid still uses bad manners despite your etiquette lessons, it's time to take things up a notch and enforce a consequence. Depending on your child's age and the severity of the offense, you might try requiring your kid to repeat the correct polite behavior ten times in a row on the spot, or to say or even write a sincere apology note to the offended party. For especially offensive discourteous behaviors, up the stakes by forbidding your child to attend social gatherings for an appropriate period of time. Doing so helps your kid get the message that you expect well-mannered behavior.
One Simple Solution
One of the simplest and most essential manners that every child should learn is a handshake, as it is a universal greeting. You can begin when your child is three years old. Just be sure to teach the two critical elements to a proper handshake: shake the person's hand with a firm grip and maintain eye contact. Practice the greeting with your child until he feels confident using it in the real world. You'll also be giving your child a jump-start for success: surveys show that one of the first things employers look for is whether a candidate knows how to use a proper handshake.3
Step 3. Develop Habits for Change
Kids learn any skill best through repetition; give your child lots of opportunities to practice the new skill so that he can use his new manners confidently in the real world. Here are a few ways:
- Target a manner a week. Some families practice a new manner each week. You might write the new manner (such as eating soup without slurping or waiting until the hostess sits before eating) on an index card. Then post the manner on your refrigerator as a family reminder so that everybody is practicing the same manner together.
- Make mealtimes matter. Dinnertime is the perfect place to practice conversation skills and table manners with kids, such as keeping your napkin on your lap, chewing with your mouth closed, and learning which fork to use with each course. Take advantage of those mealtime moments. Here are a few manners to get you started: Please. Thank you. May I? Excuse me. Pardon me. I'm sorry. You go first. How was your day? How can I help? Please, may I be excused? Please pass.
- Practice good host skills. Whenever your child has a friend over, use it as an opportunity to learn host etiquette. Remind your child of the "host basics": greet your guest at the door; ask the guest what he'd like to do; offer a snack; help him gather anything he left; walk the friend to the door; thank him for coming and say good-bye.
- Teach tactful ways to decline an invitation. One of the basic traits of well-mannered kids is that they are considerate. So saying no to an invitation is often a difficult task because they don't want to hurt the person's feelings or appear impolite. One of the easiest ways to get out of any tricky situation is to teach your child to say, "Gee, I'd like to, but I'll have to check with my parents first" or "I wish I could, but I'll have to call you back after I look up the date." Your child can then plan how he will turn down the invitation tactfully (if he chooses to) by thinking through exactly what to say so he doesn't seem rude.
- Plan a party. Start a monthly tradition like that of one of my friends in which you require your kids to help you plan a party just for your family. They can set the table—with the "company dishes"—arrange a centerpiece of handpicked flowers, and then sit down in their "Sunday best." At party time, this mother helped her kids practice more sophisticated table manners and learn the right eating utensils so that they would feel comfortable eating out. It was well worth the trouble because so many people told this mom how well mannered her kids were.
What To Expect By Stages And Ages
These descriptions of manners appropriate for each stage are from the prestigious Etiquette and Leadership Institute:4
Preschooler Kids this age can grasp the differences between polite and not-so-polite behaviors; they will need gentle reminders for using correct etiquette in social settings. Manners to instill include saying hello, good-bye, please, I'm sorry, and thank you; washing hands; using an "indoor voice"; sitting with good posture; saying "Please, may I be excused?"; being a good host when the playdate guest arrives and leaves.
School Age School-age children can be taught manners with an emphasis on everyday courtesies kids need for school, home, and activities, including how to answer the phone, give a firm handshake, greet someone, say hello to their teacher, thank the coach or parent for the carpool ride, use proper silverware at dinner, answer the telephone, host friends, show consideration for others, and use most etiquette basics without prompting (though you may still need to give occasional reminders).
Tween Tweens can consider others' needs as basic to good etiquette, including conversing with those on their left and right at the table; not using a cell phone (at home, school, and public places) if it could disturb others; greet guests, ensure that everyone knows each other, and say good-bye as they leave; and know how to act at a fancier restaurant or social gathering. Kids at this age become more self-absorbed and may test family etiquette standards with crudeness or foul language (especially boys) and being inconsiderate (especially girls).
One Parent's Answer
A mom from Salt Lake City shares:
I was mortified when my daughter used poor table manners at a recent family party, so when everyone left I made her set the table and practice the proper use of utensils. She wasn't dismissed until she could show me she knew how to hold and use each knife, fork, spoon, and serving utensil correctly. My etiquette session was so successful, I've haven't had to offer a "repeat lesson."
Eighty-Five Crucial Manners To Teach Your Child
Here is a list of some of the most important manners etiquette experts say we should teach kids. Check off any your child already uses. Those that remain are ones you can slowly help your child learn.
Essential Polite Words
- Thank you
- Excuse me
- I'm sorry
- May I?
- Pardon me
- You're welcome
Meeting and Greeting Manners
- Smiles and looks the person in the eye
- Shakes hands
- Says hello
- Introduces self
- Introduces the other person
- Starts a conversation
- Listens without interrupting
- Looks at the eyes of the speaker
- Uses a pleasant tone of voice
- Appears interested in the speaker
- Knows how to end a conversation
- Knows how to maintain a conversation
- Comes to the table on time
- Knows how to correctly set a table
- Sits up straight
- Places napkin on her lap
- Takes his hat off
- Makes only positive comments about food
- Waits for the hostess to sit before serving or eating
- Puts modest portions of food on his plate
- Eats food only on his own plate
- Eats soup without slurping
- Knows proper way to cut meat
- Asks, "Please pass the …"
- Doesn't grab serving dishes or reach over someone for food
- Knows how to use utensils correctly
- Keeps his elbows off the table
- Chews with her mouth closed
- Doesn't talk with food in his mouth
- Places knife and fork sideways on the plate when finished
- Asks to be excused before leaving table
- Offers to help the hostess
- Thanks the hostess before leaving
- Greets guest at the door
- Offers guest something to eat
- Stays with the guest
- Asks guest what he'd like to do
- Shares with the guest
- Walks guest to the door and says good-bye
Anywhere and Anytime
- Covers her mouth when she coughs
- Refrains from swearing
- Refrains from belching
- Refrains from gossiping
- Holds a door for a woman or elderly person
- Greets host's parents
- Picks up after himself
- If spending the night, keeps room straight and makes her bed
- Offers to help the parent of the host
- Thanks the host and her parents
Manners Toward Older People
- Stands up when an older person comes into the room
- Helps older guests with their coats
- Opens the door and holds it open when an older person leaves
- Offers his seat if no chair is available
- Is considerate of older people's physical needs (hearing, vision, and so on)
- Holds the car door and helps person into the car if necessary
- Is considerate and offers any help
- Doesn't address the person's shortcomings (wrinkles, hearing loss, cane, and so on)
- Plays by the rules
- Shares the equipment
- Encourages her teammates
- Doesn't brag or show off
- Doesn't cheer mistakes
- Doesn't boo
- Doesn't argue with the referee
- Congratulates opponents
- Doesn't make excuses or complain
- Stops when the game is over
- First greets the person and says her name
- Politely asks to speak to the person
- Answers with a clear and pleasant voice
- Asks the caller, "Who's calling, please?"
- Greets the caller by name if she knows him
- Politely says, "Please hold on" while she gets the intended speaker
- Takes and gives a message
- Politely ends a conversation
- Turns off cell phone or beeper at movies, concerts, or other public places
- If she must use a cell phone at a public place, she excuses herself quietly so as not to disturb others
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