Dr. Rachell N. Anderson
In my day, Emily Post was the guru on manners and etiquette. But we didn’t need Emily to teach us how to be polite toward others. We learned it at home from our parents. The same messages were reinforced at school. The adults somehow knew that we weren’t born knowing how to behave politely so it was their jobs to teach us.
Manners are important because they help children to get-along better in the world and become successful with their lives. According to Sheryl Eberly, mother of three and author of 365 Manners Kids Should Know, “Polite behavior will help your child's social development. Kids who aren't taught social graces from an early age are at a distinct disadvantage. An ill-mannered child is a turn-off to adults and kids alike.” Even children don't enjoy the company of a child who doesn't know how to share or take turns.
According to Emily Post, "Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others.” Awareness is the important word here. By the time children are 18 months of age, they have begun to notice that other people have feelings just as they do and that’s a good time to begin teaching them how to be courteous, polite and friendly. When parents start early, manners become a part of the child’s personality which is then done automatically, whether they are at home or in public. It’s like any skill that has to be learned and practiced. Learning manners is a lifelong process and it’s okay to take it slowly teaching a few skills at a time.
So, here’s the charge for parents.
1. By age 2, children need to be able to return a "hello" when another person speaks to them. They should be able to say please, thank you and no thank you. Begin to understand the concept of sharing and turn-taking -though they won't necessarily like it. 2. By age 3, children need to be able to eat with a spoon and fork, stay seated at the table, and wipe their mouths with a napkin.
4. By age 4, children should be able to do as they are told, wait their turn, rather than interrupt others in conversations (unless it’s an emergency). Also they should be able to greet a known visitor with a polite hello.
5. By age 5, children should be able to hold the door for a person coming in behind them, pause before walking in front of an older person and apologize if they forget to do so.
By age 6, Children should know not to take things that belong to others and refrain from fighting back when offended.
Children behave best when they are given limits. In fact, they really need limits. Rules provide the predictability and stability kids need to help them feel secure and to make sense of things in this wild and crazy world.
Learning manners is a lifelong education. Eberly suggests taking it slow by “Introducing one new social skill a month and rewarding the child with recognition when he or she does the skill being taught.
These seem like tall orders for some parents but believe me, it’s easier and more productive to teach appropriate behavior than it is to constantly correct unacceptable behavior.
Also, parents’ behaviors count. Make sure you are consistent. Acquiring good manners takes lots of practice and reinforcement, so make sure that you stick with it. The moment you let one thing slide, the child gets the message that it’s not important and will constantly test the limits. Too, make sure you model what you teach. That means when you make a request, you do it with a please and a thank you.
What’s A Person To Do?
1. Remember, you can’t do a don’t. So remember to say what behavior you want to see rather than what you don’t want. Sit here quietly rather than “Don’t run and shout.”
2. Model the behavior you want to see. Say please and thank you to them and to others in your circle.
3. Use social strokes to reinforce their use of the manners you are teaching. These include, smiles, pats on the back, a wink, thumbs-up, and words like “you did a good job of not hitting when Johnny snatched your Tinker Toy.
4. Develop a signal your child can use to indicate that he needs you when you’re busy with other things. Raising his index finger is an example given by Eberly.
5. Before you go to the grocery store for instance, tell your child what behaviors you expect. Ask him or her to tell you what he or she is to do just as you get there. Compliment the right answer. Prompt him or her if he or she forgets.
6. Explain to the child why the rule is important.
7. Pick your battles. It’s not worth it to waste time and energy enforcing rules that don’t much matter. Focus on teaching a few important safety and behavior rules. Decide up front what they’ll be. This approach even has long-term benefits, says Darwin Dorr, PhD, professor of psychology at Wichita State University “since research shows that kids who are raised with too many rules are likely to rebel later.”
Dr. Rachell Anderson is a native of Tunica, a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, a Professor Emeritus and author. She taught at the University of Illinois and ran a Private Clinical Practice in Springfield, Illinois for many years. She now lives and writes with The Mississippi Writers Guild in Tunica, Mississippi. Check out her website at WWW.drrachellanderson.com for more articles and books she has written.