How Parents and Caregivers Can Teach Children Manners

Child manners encourage respect, tolerance and grace

Happy father and son reading book together in bed
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Parents and caregivers should teach children manners to allow youngsters to thrive in a number of situations, including holiday gatherings, family events and parties. But children won't exhibit respect, tolerance and social graces during these special times unless they've already received lessons on manners and etiquette.

Children who grow up without learning how to behave in social settings have a greater risk of failure in work environments and at social events.

However, parents, teachers and childcare providers can team up to teach and reinforce appropriate child manners. Below are tips on the best way to teach etiquette to children.

Teaching Kids to Respect Others

To help children learn manners, parents must first teach them about the concept of respect. Traditional, or "old school," adults believe that children should never call adults by their first names, should answer adults with a "yes, sir" or "no, ma'am" and never talk back to adults. In contrast, younger generations consider these traditional social rules to be too formal and restrictive for today's kids. It's okay for parents to agree to disagree about manners because the key is to determine which rules apply best to the child's family, school or daycare. Once parents pinpoint these rules, they should begin to enforce them.

Dining Table Manners

Amazingly enough, many kids have never been told that they should not have their elbows on the table or where to leave their napkin.

Without adult guidance, some kids grow into adults who also don't know basic rules at mealtimes. Many a potential job offer has ended over lunch when an employer observed an applicant's poor manners, and too many dates end without a connection because of boorish behavior at dinner. Why not get kids on the right track before adulthood?

All kids don't need to know about fancy table arrangements or how to eat from fine china. However, holidays or special evenings out can be a great time to promote these practices. Teach kids how to set the table correctly when they're young and then talk to them about general etiquette.

One family has a weekly "family night out" at the dining room table in which the better tableware and glassware are used and the table is set with candles and other arrangements. Each week, a different child in the family makes the dinner plans. On some weeks, the meal may consist simply of hamburgers, but the family uses the special meal to teach manners, social graces and according to the mother, "hopefully foster an enjoyment and respect of table conversation and of the dining experience in general."

Some schools have programs such as cotillions for children, and some childcare settings feature play meal settings or dress up teas or parties. All of these are steppingstones for teaching children manners.

Teach One Rule of Etiquette at a Time

Don't overburden a child with too many lessons at once. Childcare providers and teachers can work with parents to promote one child manner per month, to be reinforced during the school day and at home. A general theme of respect, table manners, phone etiquette and social interaction with adults and peers could provide fodder for scenarios and games to help teach social graces. Parents can help children understand manners by asking their childcare providers how mealtimes are handled and instilling those same processes at home for consistency.

Praise Children for Using Manners

Good manners and social skills are learned behaviors, and kids need constant and positive reinforcement. Teaching a kid how to greet adults or extend a handshake, for example, requires practice. While kids may forget, remember that they ultimately want to please their parents and other adults in their lives by behaving politely.

Character and Manners Go Hand-in-Hand

Regardless of a family's background or religious beliefs, certain values are core to everyone, such as honesty, tolerance, creating success, generosity and kindness. La Petite Academy’s Make-A-Wish campaign, for example, supports a worthy charity while teaching children the importance of generosity, kindness and community involvement. The company further reinforces these positive character traits to the children in its care with a unique “Kids of Character” program. La Petite Academy offers a comprehensive curriculum that includes monthly activities specifically designed to build a sense of community and caring among children.

Set the Example

Don't expect your kids to use manners and social graces if you don't serve as a positive role model. Kids learn through observation, so parents should consider this the next time they eat with their elbows on the table.

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