No parent would desire for their kid to be rude; even if you can tolerate bad manners at home, think how embarrassed you would be if your child is rude to your friends or over the phone. It is not realistic to expect your child to suddenly behave in public when he has sloppy manners at home. Parents play a critical role in a child’s upbringing because children look to their parents as role models. The social norms are first learnt in a home setting, and therefore you can help your child by imparting and expecting good manners.
Manners, in contrast to etiquette, are not about rules (such as which fork to use or what title to address others) but about respect and consideration for others. It is an extension of character and convey one’s respect for the sensibilities of others. Therefore, teaching good manners is teaching respect, self-awareness, consideration for others which will benefit the child as these are the same social skills that help one to do well in life.
You can teach manners from the first day of birth, as manners extend beyond speech but also include eye contact, body language and voice tone. As the child grows older, you can teach polite words, kind actions and what to do (and not to do) at others’ homes.
Here are 12 ways you can teach manners to your child!
#1 Modulate your Tone
You can modulate your tone when using words such as “thank you” and “please” – while babies will not know what “thank you” means, they will associate the words with positive emotions since your tone and facial expression suggest that. As your baby grows older, he will learn that these words are to be spoken politely. Modulating your tone extends beyond the “magic words” – you would want to speak gently to your spouse, respectfully to your elders and overall politely to everyone.
#2 Gentle Touch
Babies use touch extensively to explore the world and you can teach them to be gentle when touching another person or pet. For instance, teach your baby not to grab someone’s hair, hit or pinch another person by firmly saying no and removing your baby’s hand. Demonstrate the right way to touch someone or handle pet. You can also teach patting gently on the arm as a sign of comfort.
#3 Magic Words
Words such as “please”, “thank you”, “no thank you”, “you’re welcome”, “excuse me” and “may I” are not just words to be spoken when you want something; teaching these words should be combined with explaining why they have to be used, for instance, ask your child how he would feel if someone were to take something without asking or not appreciate that he has been helpful. Apart from saying the words, it has to be combined with the right tone of voice and body language.
In our Asian culture, we may more closely associate greeting with addressing elders. However, it should extend to greeting one another “good morning”, “goodbye” or “have a good day”. When not practiced from young, greetings can be awkward for an older child. Greeting someone is acknowledging and showing well intentions for the other person.
#5 “Seated” Manners
There are quite a lot of manners that you can practice while seated! The most obvious is table manners, for instance, that it is polite to wait for everyone to be seated before starting to eat. You can also teach patience to your child, that he is to wait or ask permission if he wants to leave the table earlier. Other manners include not shaking the table, not eating or talking too loudly (you’d be amazed how often people shout to another person when they are just sitting beside them!), passing the food and not hoarding food on one’s plate, not talking with mouth full and to chew with mouth closed. As you can see, there are quite a lot of behaviors to teach! Focus on one or two at any one time – after all, you do not want to spend your entire dinner telling your child what to do and not to do!
If your child is part of a playgroup, sharing becomes an important social skill. Moreover, it is bad manners if you invite your friends and their kids to come over for a playdate, and later to find out that your child throws tantrums and refuses to share his toys. Sharing also teaches your child to show consideration for others and to share with others when one is able.
This is for both the parent and the child. When teaching manners to your child, you have to be patient. After all, it wouldn’t be good manners if you lose it in front of your child and start demanding that he ought to be showing good manners! For the child, he can learn patience in ways such as not interrupting a conversation and waiting for his turn. For a young child, he may not be able to wait for long, so give him some cues that you would turn your attention to him soon.
#8 Eye contact
Ahhh… we all know this one: no matter what your spouse says, he/ she not looking at you when talking to you speaks volumes! Teach your child to have eye contact, not just with his peers but also to adults. This is especially useful when he gets to grade school where teachers will expect students to be able to talk to them while maintaining eye contact. A must for spouses too!
“Sorry” is word that needs to be taught well and there are many ways of expressing an apology. Apart from teaching your child when to say sorry, also teach him how to say it. For instance, you have to approach the person you have hurt, look the person in the eye, say sorry and ask how you can help to improve the situation. An apology should therefore incorporate speech, tone, body language, thoughts on what one can do to remedy the situation, and actions – now, saying sorry isn’t that easy!
#10 Shaking Hands
If an older child is able to introduce himself properly, you can be sure he would make a good impression on his teachers and your friends! Teach your child to establish eye contact, extend his hand confidently and give a firm handshake, followed by greeting the other person and introducing himself.
#11 Practice for Real
While you would agree that learning good manners takes time and practice, you should be careful not to make the learning seems like an act. Your child may get confused between role play, and what he ought to really do. Instead, model good manners and make it a natural part of your family interactions.
#12 Be Positive
While teaching good manners to your child, give positive reinforcements rather than punishment or scolding. Your child may also want to exert independence and not listen to you in certain stages of his development. Always remember to express gratitude for his efforts.
It is important to expect good manners from your child, and assume that responsibility to teach him. Set clear boundaries of what behaviors are not acceptable and keep practicing the good manners!