5 Ways to Teach Kids Old-Fashioned Manners in Today's World

Young girl cutting her food with silverware
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In today's world, you're likely to hear most kids say, "Give me that!" and "I want it now!" more often than you'll hear them say, "please," and "thank you." Sadly, it sometimes feels like most of the world has forgotten to teach children basic manners.

But, just because many children lack basic manners, that doesn't mean you shouldn't teach your child basic etiquette. A well-mannered child will likely get noticed by teachers and other parents for all the right reasons.

Help your child master basic manners with these discipline strategies:

1. Praise Your Child’s Use of Manners

Provide positive feedback whenever you catch your child using good manners. For young children, this may mean saying, "Great job remembering to say 'thank you.'" For teens, positive feedback may include praise for putting a phone away while at the dinner table or shaking hands when greeting a new person.

If you’ve got a younger child, provide praise right away. Say, “You did a nice job thanking Grandma  for that gift.” Don’t embarrass a teen by praising him in front of other people. Instead, have a private conversation about how you appreciate that he behaved politely toward guests at a family gathering or give him positive feedback on how he handled an interaction with a store clerk.

2. Model Polite Behavior

The best way to teach new skills is to be a good role model. When your child sees you speaking politely to others and using your manners, he’ll pick up on that.

Pay attention to how you interact with your spouse or close family members because sometimes it's easy to forget to use manners when we feel comfortable with people. Send thank-you notes, behave politely toward people in the service industry, and use your manners when you're talking on the phone because kids are always listening and watching.

And be careful about how you handle situations when you’re upset. If you’re angry with someone, do you tend to raise your voice? Do you use harsh words when you think someone has treated you unfairly? Your message about the importance of using manners won’t be heard if you don’t model how to behave politely and respectfully.

3. Role Play Specific Situations

Role playing helps kids practice new skills. Role playing can be an especially helpful tool if you are entering into a new situation. If your 5-year-old has invited friends to his birthday party, role play how to use manners while opening presents. Help him practice how to thank people for his gift and how to respond if he opens a gift that he doesn’t particularly like.

Sit down with your child and say, “What would you do if…” and then see what he has to say. Pretend to be a friend or another adult and see how your child responds to specific situations. Then, provide feedback and help your child discover how to behave politely and respectfully in various scenarios.

4. Provide a Brief Explanation

Kids are more likely to remember their manners and specific etiquette rules when you provide a brief explanation about why a particular behavior is considered impolite or rude. Avoid lecturing or telling long-winded tales. Instead, simply state the reason why a specific behavior may not be appreciated.

If your child is chewing with his mouth open, say, "People don't want to see the food in your mouth when they're trying to eat." If you make a big deal about it, you may inadvertently encourage the behavior to continue. But, if you can just state the reason in a calm and matter-of-fact manner, it can serve as a reminder for your child about why other people may not appreciate what he's doing.

5. Keep Your Expectations Age Appropriate

Make sure that your expectations are appropriate to your child’s age and developmental level. If you’ve got a toddler, start working on the basics of saying “please,” “thank you,” and “sorry.” By the time your child’s a teenager, you should be focusing on advanced skills like phone etiquette and more complex communication skills.

Sometimes it’s helpful to really focus on one area at a time – like basic table manners – before moving onto other skills. If you give your child too much to learn at once he may become overwhelmed. It’s common too for previous skills to be revisited from time to time to make sure your child is remembering to use them.

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