Does it bug you when children answer back, shout at their parents, barge other people out the way, roll their eyes, leave mangled food remains on the floor and table even though they’re old enough to know better? Read on for my 7 simple ways to help your child develop good manners.
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Have you ever felt frustrated with children’s bad manners? Have you been in a situation where you felt like crawling under the floorboards because you were so embarrassed by your own child’s manners?
Thinking about why bad manners annoy or upset us can help us recognise whether our response is helping children to develop manners that matter.
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What Are Good Manners Anyway?
Good manners in one culture, or in one period of history, isn’t necessarily good manners in another context. Often we don’t even realise where our customs have come from.
Have you ever wondered how “Ladies first” became an issue of manners in most European context? Where did we get that idea from? Apparently, in earlier days, pre-sanitation and pre washing-machines, dirty water was hurled out of windows, and the unfortunate pedestrian could get an unhappy soaking. A gentleman would help a lady get within the shelter of the residence as quickly as possible. Hence, ladies first.
But if you’ve grown up in Africa in earlier times, good manners meant that the man entered the house first, in case there was a lion, snake or some other unwelcome creature in the house. A well-mannered man went in first to protect his family.
Just one little example of how manners are perceived differently in different cultures and in different eras.
When you think about why manners matter, it’s to do with people living co-operatively together. It’s thinking about the other peoples’ needs as well as your own. The elderly person struggling to lift something heavy. The pregnant woman needing a seat on the bus. Appreciation of a gift or a kindness given.
When we are concerned about our children having good manners, it’s about helping them to think of others as well as themselves.
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How To Help Your Child Develop Good Manners
#1. Model the Good Manners You Want Your Child to Acquire
We often tell our children “Don’t interrupt”, but sometimes we interrupt them! We tell children not to answer back, but sometimes we cut them short when they are trying to express something to us.
#2. Remember Your Child’s Developmental Stage
Think about your child’s developmental stage and whether they have any particular challenges.
For example, a young child isn’t always going to perceive the other person’s perspective and they haven’t yet developed the social skills to always interact in a way we would see as appropriate.
Help them gently to learn from you what is appropriate.
#3. Be Aware of Hunger, etc
A child who is hungry, angry, anxious, lonely, ill or tired is less likely to be co-operative and sensitive to others.
Bad manners often erupt when a child is not feeling okay in himself or about himself. See the ‘HALT’ signpost in my book “BEHAVE – What To Do When Your Child Won’t” for more on this.
#4. Avoid Correcting Them Publicly
If you need to talk to your child about his manners, as far as possible avoid correcting him in front of other people, because we can demean our children when we make an issue of an incident when other people are present.
If we want our children to treat other people with respect, it starts with us giving them the same respect we’d like for ourselves. Wait for a quiet opportunity, when you are both calm, to gently discuss a “bad manners” incident. Ask them to imagine how the other person might have felt, or comment on how it made you feel, if it was behaviour that you experienced or was directed against you.
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#5. Remind Ahead of Time
When you are going to be in the public arena, (in the shops, in a museum or library, or visiting people who don’t have a particularly child-friendly home) remind young children ahead of time about the behaviour you expect.
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#6. Avoid Laughing About Their Behaviour
Don’t laugh about a child’s behaviour as though it’s cute, especially if it is something that you will think is rude in an older child. How will your child know something is not okay if you’ve smiled at that behaviour when the child is younger?
#7. Use Opportunities to Speak About Good Manners and Why They Matter
Use opportunities in real life and also on television. Don’t lecture. Rather, say how you would feel if somebody did that to you or ask your children what they think.
Sitcoms often show rude behaviour like shouting at one another, slamming doors, eye-rolling and interrupting. We often don’t realise our children are learning bad manners from what they are viewing, and that these behaviours are sometimes portrayed as ‘cool’.
Use situations to discuss what the other person might feel, and how the upset person could say what they need instead of using rude behaviour.
This past week I had an ‘AHA’ moment re bringing up children to have good manners. Click to discover my ‘AHA’ moment in “Why Good Manners Matter For Your Kids – and what to do about it”
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