I believe in good manners. I believe that what you give is what you get. If you can offer respect and kindness to another, you are more likely to get respect and kindness in return.
Through the years I have struggled mightily to teach these concepts to my boys. When they were very young, they were more concerned with running laps around the house or spontaneously tackling each other. Of course there are the obvious ways to teach them. I started small and had them learn to ask for what they wanted with a ‘please’ and then respond with a ‘thank you’ after their request was fulfilled. Even starting small like this, it took a lot of effort, commitment and enormous amounts of repetition. I wish I had some sort of magic to share that would get your kids to use their manners, but I don’t. It boils down to sticking with it day after day until it rolls into year after year.
One of the biggest reasons I believe in teaching manners is that it seems to me the scope of parenting is growing leaps and bounds. We have to rely on in-laws, friends and sitters to get us through, especially if we have multiple children in multiple extracurricular activities. I have been emphatic that my boys must thank anyone that helps to care for them, drive them anywhere or host them at their home. In my own experience helping others, it is always a lot more pleasant if the kids I’m carting around are polite. Since I know that I am going to continue to need help and support as I raise my boys, I hope that they acknowledge any and all helpers with kindness.
Even with what I’m sure can be my over-emphasis on politeness, my boys acquired their manner-using abilities at different paces. It clicked in a lot earlier for my older son. He seems to be slightly more in tune with those around him so using manners makes more sense to him. He understands why acknowledging another’s kindnesses, as well as being proactive to show signs of respect, generally gets him a more positive result in his interactions with others. He is quick to hold a door or call an adult ‘ma’am’ or ‘sir’. By no means do I suggest that your kids refer to adults in this way. It’s whatever you are comfortable with as a family. In the area we live, using ma’am and sir is common, but when we lived farther north, that wasn’t common at all. I do think it shows respect to the parents of their friends if they at least put a Mr., a Mrs. or a Miss in front of their first names. Again, it’s whatever feels right for you.
My younger son has been slower on developing the good-manners habit. Initially this frustrated me to no end, but I gained some perspective once I realized he was fairly typical of his age-group. He has come a long way in recent months, but my husband and I will continue to stay consistent in reinforcing his manners. Like I said, it is a years-long process for some kids. In conjunction with constant verbal reinforcement I have found that modeling good manners goes a long way. Not only do I try to make sure that I speak respectfully to my husband, I also speak respectfully to my children. I am not perfect by any stretch of the imagination and do have my ‘off’ days, but in general, I try to speak and behave kindly towards my family. I truly believe actions speak louder than words in this instance. The bottom line is, be kind, be consistent and let your kids develop manners at their own pace.
Written by Diana DeVaul, MSW and Parent