How was your weekend? It was a hot and rainy one in Florida! If you follow me on Facebook, you probably saw what I did yesterday and it's one of my favorite places to go as often as I can, especially when I want to stay cool!
While out and about this past week, I've encountered both well-mannered children and those that could use a refresher. It got me thinking....I haven't posted yet about manners for children. Many of you, my readers, are moms or will be very soon and I thought it was time to cover this topic. This will by no means be the only post I write on this topic, but I thought we should dive into the basics to get things rolling. While I'm not a mother yet myself, I was a hands-on second mom with a lot of responsibility to my 11-yrs-younger brother and learned a lot during the process including encouraging well-mannered behavior and sometimes disciplining him also and I had a few tips I wanted to share.
I love this quote above by Fred Astaire, isn't it so accurate? Society as a whole and what we deem to be important is continually changing. I'm finding that overall, a new culture is developing and shifting with a trend to a more casual form of expression and bad behavior. One thing is clear, the training of manners and the example has to be taught at home, parents cannot rely on the school system, a daycare or interaction with other children and adults alone to be their classroom. More important though than training a child to be well-mannered, is that the parents must be the example by first displaying these manners. Some days your children may test you beyond belief and zap the energy out of you but you must not give up! Letting things slide once or twice can lead to a pattern which can lead to trouble down the road. It is far easier to train a small child and set the ground work today when they are young than attempt to discipline them when they become tweens, teens or young adults who have a lot more personality and stubbornness.
Basic Manners for Children Under 6
1. Please, Thank You & You're Welcome- This may seem really basic, kind of a pre-requisite for kindergarten, no? I'm still amazed at the children that won't hesitate to say, "gimme that", "that's mine" or "I want...." with no please or thank you to be heard of. When I see how many adults do not use the basic please, thank you or you're welcome, it's not surprising that this generation's children are not speaking in such a way. Here in America, many adults and children reply with "uh huh" or "yup" when you thank them for something. This is not a proper or polite reply. Growing up where I did, I had never heard anyone say anything other than you're welcome and I think people are becoming lazy. These are the very basics every child should be using on a daily basis without parents having to constantly remind them. By five or six years old this should become pretty automatic, parents should no longer need to prompt by saying, "Now what do we say, Ethan?"
2. Table Manners-It is important to encourage the use of eating utensils as soon as possible and of course when safe to do so. Whether it's scooping out yogurt, picking up veggies, etc., it's good to begin allowing toddlers to use a fork and spoon even if they are not using it properly. This will get them familiar with holding them and they'll begin watching you use yours so eating when they eat will help them learn. It's important to re-enforce that throwing food or putting food on another's plate or pushing it off of their own plate is not acceptable behavior. When they are around 4-5, this is a good age to have them understand that they must not get up from the table when they feel they would like to and instead understand that a family eats together, even if the family consists only of you-the parent- and them. It is polite to wait for others to finish. Keeping elbows off of the table can be introduced also. Some children lean on the table with both hands on their heads looking bored or sleepy when they are finished eating. This needs to be discouraged. Play a little game and see who can sit up straight the longest or who can keep their elbows off the table the longest-give them a gold star if that motivates them-whatever works in your home.
3. Tidying Up - It's very easy for parents to get into the habit of ALWAYS having to tidy up after their child whether it be in the living room, play room or their own bedroom. As early as possible, it's good to explain that toys get put away once pulled out. It is very important to have bins, baskets or totes that the child can access at their height so that they can actually clean up. Using a picture on the front of the bin will help them along until they can read. As an Interior Designer and Home Stager I see the inside of many homes and while I don't judge other people for the way they live in their home, we're all entitled to live as we please, I have to admit it's always shocking when I see a teen or child's bedroom that looks like it has exploded. It shows me that the parents aren't enforcing keeping a clean room well enough and the children need to remember that they live in their parent's home so they must respect that while it is their space, the parents own it, pay for it and can decide how it should be cared for.
4. Sharing-Whether a child has other siblings they may need to share with or they are an only child who does not need to share much yet, sharing should always be encouraged. This is really another one of those important skills that is really best learned sooner than later. It's important at home, play dates, kindergarten and beyond. I think the best way to approach this is to explain to a child how you are sharing with them when you give them some of your ice cream cone for example. Speaking to as child like an adult is helpful and say, "I want you to have some of the ice cream too so we can both enjoy it. Isn't it yummy?" They will start to understand that sharing means someone else gets to have some of what they or another has. Sometimes you'll share and have some of their snack or crayons, etc. If they cry or react, remind them about the "ice cream" and how you shared and it's nice to let others enjoy what you have by letting them have some too. It may not work every time, but it's good to begin creating the expectation with conversation. I'm sure you have your own tricks up your sleeve for this one!
5. Learning Not to Interrupt-Children love to be heard and sometimes this means that they want to tell you or ask you what they want exactly when and how they want. A common complaint is children who interrupt while the mother and father or two adults are talking. If they are sitting close enough, it's good to get them in the habit of having them lightly tap you on the arm or if further away, raise their hand when they want something. After all, raising their hand is what they will be learning in school and it teaches patience. There are many adults that don't know how to wait their turn and interrupt when other adults speak so the sooner, the better for this one.
6. Eliminating the Word "EW"- When it comes to things a child deems gross or unpleasant, they are often vocal and use the word ew, ick or yuck to describe anything from food that looks or smells different to a scent or odor from another person or while in someone else's home. This can really offend others and it's good to have a child to hold their tongue when they see, hear, taste, touch or smell something that they're not a fan of. This is a tricky one but explaining how it hurts someone's feelings and makes them feel bad is a start. I believe this one is important because it teaches at a young age not to say out loud everything that you think, in other words learning to be discreet.
7. Responding to NO- I see children throw tantrums in stores all the time over one small word-no. As young toddlers they often use the world a lot to tell you what they don't want. In order to not give into a child's every whim, this expectation needs to be set as early as possible. No doesn't always mean never, it can sometimes mean not now, not today, not until your birthday, etc. Being clear of what the no means is step one. Encouraging and rewarding a patient and well-behaved child is a way to keep up good behavior. I also believe that teaching children the value of money and allowing them to do small chores and earn thier own money really helps cut back with all the wants. Giving them the opportunity to purchase their own items and knowing they must save up for it if they want it is one of the best things we can teach a child. Sometimes the 'no' does mean no forever. No, we are not getting a puppy, no you may not jump on that sofa (while furniture shopping), taking them aside to explain why not. Instead replace the no with a positive that they can have. No, you may not have those chips, but you can have a banana or some strawberries. No, you two may not run all over the store but you can chase each other in the backyard when we get home. Whatever changes a no to a yes for a child by giving other options changes that previous thought to something else more positive for the most part. It's a good place to start and also put an end to whining and fits.
Children need not feel like learning to become polite and well-mannered involves being in boot camp or is boring, it can be fun, but it's up to the parent to inject the fun as they might with a chore chart, etc., to keep a children interested and motivated.
Teaching children manners can begin at a very young age. Obviously some things will come in time as they can speak more clearly and learn a greater vocabulary, but body language is important too. Fortunately or unfortunately small children model adults so it is up to the adult in charge to be the role model. What does this mean? Not sighing when doing something we don't like. Not eye rolling at others or speaking ill of them when they are not around or under one's breath. Not yelling across the house to the other children or one's spouse-this is the foundation of respect. Always saying please, thank you and you're welcome when appropriate and addressing elders and others who are strangers as Miss, Ma'am or Sir or by their surname such as Mr. Green or Miss Gabriel. Being patient as the role model, not losing your temper and being kind to others are also important. Being the example is a full time job, I'm not going to sugar coat it, but it will be well worth your effort to raise children that become young ladies and little gentlemen that will set an example themselves.
Please note I'm not a childhood expert nor do I pretend to be. I also know that some children learn faster than others, some are more keen than others, some have limiting disabilities and every child's timeline for learning to be more polite (as with everything else they learn) will differ. I'd LOVE to hear from you moms!! Tell me, what timeline do you think is appropriate for children to learn the above mentioned basics? Feel free to add more of your own manners too, I'd like to hear them! :)
Photo Credit for image # (1)