Often parenting is about staying out of nature’s way and making sure that we don’t stifle the abilities our child was born with, but this is not the case with manners. Our children don’t get born saying “please” and “thank you” and they definitely don’t get born with the understanding that drawing on Aunty Jane’s wall is not a great idea. It’s up to us to make sure that our little ones know what is appropriate and respectful behaviour. So how do we go about it?
When your children see you use your manners consistently, they will understand that this is how things should be. Even if you do nothing else, the chances are that one day you’ll hear your children say “thank you” to the driver when you’re getting off the bus or “sorry” after they step on your foot and it will come out automatically, as if they’ve been using their manners for years.
It’s especially important to be polite when you’re interacting with your children, even though it can be hard including “please” when you’re saying for the tenth time, “Please pack away your toys and go to bed”. In fact, I often forget to say “please” after about the second time. Skipping your manners can be an effective way to get children’s attention, but it also teaches them that certain situations ask for lack of manners. This is not exactly the message you want to send, so it’s better to find an alternative way to make sure your children are listening – sing out your request, for example.
Teach respect and empathy
The underlying meaning of manners is that they are a way to show respect and care for other people, and this is more important than the words and rules we teach. We can make sure we’re raising respectful and empathetic kids by nurturing these qualities within our families, talking openly about our feelings and helping our children understand emotions in themselves and others.
Teach and correct without attachment
Give your children the words and rules they need to use in the situations they’re likely to encounter, but don’t expect them to remember everything immediately. It will take time and practice before manners become automatic. There’s no need to make manners a pre-requisite of giving children what they want, treat them with respect and patience, and eventually, they’ll get it.
When we put pressure on our children to perform on the spot, we often achieve the opposite effect- the children become fearful that they’ll get it wrong and they withdraw into their shells. When we do it, it’s usually for our own benefit anyway. We’re more concerned what other people will think of us when our kids don’t display good manners than what’s in our children’s best interest. If, on the other hand, you repeat the same rules every time it’s needed with no expectation and as if it’s the most natural thing in the world, sooner or later even a shy child will feel that it’s safe to try.