Teaching children to confidently navigate the sometimes complex world of etiquette can be a difficult task, but instilling courtesy and good manners will help them better manage society as they get older. Social skills that you pass on to your children will help them make friends, build relationships and prepare them to respond graciously in a variety of situations. As they approach adulthood, those skills will form the foundation of courteous behavior in polite society. Everyone from playmates to educators will appreciate your child’s good manners, paving the way for him to succeed throughout his life.
Kids’ Dining Etiquette
While it’s not realistic to expect children to confidently and correctly manage a formal dinner with full place settings, you can establish some simple dining etiquette that can be built upon as they age. Learning to properly use their eating utensils, to pass food at the table and to place napkins in their laps are great skills for kids to acquire, though you may find it easier to focus on the absolute basics when children are very young. Emphasizing the importance of chewing with his mouth closed, not speaking with food in his mouth and avoiding unappetizing behavior at the table is essential; his dining etiquette skills can be expanded upon as he matures.
Because more families are making the switch to a cell phone-only household and are eliminating landline telephone accounts altogether, kids may not have the chance to learn the same etiquette that their parents were taught during childhood. Still, working with your child to establish the proper protocol for answering the phone, taking messages and conducting polite conversation is important. Role-playing polite phone behavior is a particularly effective method of instilling strong phone etiquette, along with explaining the changing rules of phone manners in the age of mobile devices.
Be a Considerate Conversationalist
In order to be a good friend and a sought-after acquaintance, your child will need to learn the art of polite conversation. Stressing the importance of greeting friends and relatives correctly, asking considerate questions and inquiring about the other party’s wellbeing will help your child understand some of the basic aspects of mannerly conversation. It’s also wise to discuss the impoliteness of interrupting someone when they speak, which is often an area of difficulty for more excitable and enthusiastic children.
Mind Your “Pleases” and “Thank Yous”
If your child learns no other etiquette skills, understanding that he should always say “please” and “thank you” can go a long way towards compensating. Children who make demands rather than polite requests and show no gratitude when those demands are met aren’t likely to be favorites with playmates, teachers, relatives or family friends.
If You Can’t Say Anything Nice…
The old adage about not saying anything at all if you can’t say something nice is one that kids need to learn early, as their statements regarding someone’s appearance or habits can be blunt to the point of being inadvertently hurtful. Work with your child until he understands that some things shouldn’t be commented on, especially in a negative light. Explaining that Aunt Sally knows she has a rather sizable mole on her nose, but that talking about it might make her sad or self-conscious can prevent hurt feelings and embarrassment.
In addition to learning to say “thank you” when someone does something for them or presents them with a gift, kids need to learn the slightly more complex concept of showing real gratitude and expressing it in their daily lives. It’s entirely possible for a child to toss a “thank you” aside carelessly while still exhibiting the air of utter ingratitude, which simply isn’t attractive behavior. Discussing sincere gratitude can help your child understand that there’s more to being thankful than simply saying “thank you.”
Teaching your child basic manners creates a foundation for more complex etiquette rules down the road, but it’s important to keep in mind that your kindergartener isn’t likely to understand the complexities of formal etiquette and almost certainly will not be quoting Emily Post any time soon. Keeping your expectations realistic and focusing on primary politeness and common courtesy can keep you from feeling disappointment and your child from growing frustrated when he can’t tell his salad fork from a dessert fork. Remember that instilling good manners and teaching formal etiquette is an ongoing process, and that your lessons will ultimately be taught as you model good etiquette. Kids may not always listen to what you say, but they do watch you and often mimic the behavior they observe. In the end, one of the best ways to teach your child the rules of etiquette is to model them yourself.