These days, you can’t throw a digital rock without hitting an article about how entitled and rude the younger generations are. Whether or not this is actually true, it’s important to remember that it is the parents’ job to instill good manners in their kids — kids aren’t likely to pick up the habit of saying “please” and “thank you” on their own. Thus, if your kid is an ill-mannered boar, you should be the one who is embarrassed and ashamed.
Fortunately, it doesn’t take much to teach manners that will last a lifetime. If you are struggling to get your kids to act mannerly, read on for some key tips to try out today:
Be a Mannerly Role Model
Kids learn how to behave by copying you. In fact, immediately after they are born, babies start collecting data on how you move, speak and generally act, so they can begin to copy your behavior as soon as possible. While children learn all sorts of skills through copying, they primarily gain language and social skills, which are exactly what make them polite and respectful — or else nasty and chaotic.
It is imperative that you exhibit good manners as often as possible starting well before your kid can walk and talk. Even when you are at home or with people you feel comfortable around, you should say “please” and “sorry,” avoid using harsh words and clean up any messes you make. Showing appreciation is perhaps the most important manner you can exhibit, so you should send personalized thank you cards whenever applicable and be openly grateful in other ways too. Your kids will naturally want to do what you are doing to practice functioning as an adult.
Explain Why Manners Matter
Unfortunately, children don’t only copy their parents. Your kids will also see behavior from other adults, fellow kids at school and a variety of characters on TV and YouTube, so it’s more than likely that some bad manners will slip in. That’s why you need to communicate openly with your kids about the importance of manners, so they understand why they need to develop good manners. Explanations also help kids remember the right behavior the next time it comes up.
However, you also need to avoid long-winded explanations or discussions that emphasize the bad behavior. For instance, if your kid is chewing with their mouth open, you might simply say “People don’t want to see the food in your mouth when they are trying to eat.” If you pretend to be grossed out or copy their behavior to demonstrate its impropriety, they might find the situation funny and continue chewing with their mouth open in an attempt to get laughs. If you struggle to explain manners effectively, you can always rely on books and other media that explain mannerly messages more succinctly and successfully.
Play Around with Manners
Behaving improperly is fun and easy — so you need to make manners fun and easy, too. You can do this by integrating lessons about manners into games and activities. Perhaps the easiest manners game is roleplaying, which helps your child develop empathy while engaging in dress-up, a win-win. Your child might pretend to be a restauranteur who needs to apply polite customer service to win a generous tip. Or, you might pretend that your child is in school and needs to have manners in class and in the cafeteria. Roleplay is especially useful if there is an upcoming event that requires delicate manners, like a friend’s birthday party. Then, your kid will have plenty of practice beforehand and be more likely to be kind and gracious in the moment.
Expand Your Manners Expectations
Just as you can’t expect your one-year-old to mow the lawn, you shouldn’t expect kids that young to have a firm grasp on mannerly behavior. It takes time for kids, especially younger kids, to understand social boundaries and proper behavior, and their ability to comprehend what’s expected of them will increase as they learn and grow. To start, you might focus on teaching toddlers to say “thank you,” “please” and “sorry,” but older kids should have etiquette for eating and participating in conversations. Teenagers should be learning how to comport in complex social situations and online. As a parent, you never stop teaching your kids, and manners lessons should last a lifetime.
You don’t want to be known as the parent of the rude kid in class. Disrespectful children grow into disrespectful adults, and a society of mean, offensive people is not a productive or happy one. Your kids are the future, and you should work hard to make that future one filled with good manners.