As parents, we have all been there. We’ve reminded our child, for what seems like hundreds of times, to remove their elbows from the dinner table. We’ve felt embarrassment creep up our face while watching our child throwing a temper tantrum at the front of a crowded grocery store. We’ve felt the evil eye scrutiny from the mother of the child whose toys your child just stole away from him. So, how do we get our children to understand that manners are not just important, but something that should be practiced everyday, in just about every situation? And, more importantly, how do we, as parents, enforce manners without risking another temper tantrum?
According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, it is important to start teaching manners early in life, as children will continue to grow and practice what they have been taught. It is also important that the entire family work to teach and abide by manners that will apply to all different situations.
For especially young children, it might work best to teach them one or two manners at a time, repetitively, so as to not overwhelm them. This also decreases the risk that they will forget what they have been taught. Ask them continuously how they will respond in certain situations, such as when someone gives them an item. Encourage them to say “thank you,” recommends the US Department of Health and Human Services, and even put the power of role-playing to use by wrapping a toy or a book and having them practice what to say, even before they unwrap it. Also teach the child how to respond if the gift giver is not there when your child opens the gift.
At the dinner table, it is important to remind children about the simple rules, such as no elbows on the table and that they must wait until everyone is seated and ready to eat before they can begin. They should also know that it is not appropriate to throw food or to say things like, “I don’t like this!” aloud when others are at the table. It may be helpful to plan a “dinner party” one night as your family meal. Talk to your child about what is appropriate behavior and what is not acceptable.
It also is important for children to know that just because you are not around, does not mean their manners should fail. When they go to school, or are at a friend’s house, for example, they should know that it is expected that they will be on their best mannerly behavior, beyond just saying “please” and “thank you.” Little children should learn how to share from an early age, and they should respect their friends by taking turns with toys, books, video games, or whatever holds their interests.
Teaching manners is not an easy task, nor is it something that can be taught in only a day. But with consistent rules and lessons about manners, your kids will grow into polite, caring adults who will then pass along your rules to their children.