When I was growing up, manners were not polite things that you did, they were laws to live by. If I didn’t hold the door for someone or acted out in public, my parents reminded of those laws that governed me as a little human. And when I acted appropriately I was given genuine praise for doing the right thing and that made me proud. Somewhere along the way America has forgotten some of the common laws of politeness. To refresh our collective memory, here are some manners that our kids, mine included, need to master.
Say Thank You - Saying thank you is more than teaching your kids to parrot the phrase. Kids know to say thank you, but do they mean it? The core issue might be that we need to teach our kids to be grateful. Expressing gratitude humbles a person to understand the act of kindness they’ve received. The next time your kid says thank you, praise them for saying it, but go further and ask them why they said it. If they don’t know, then they are just appeasing you. If they give a honest answer, then you know it was genuine. Talk to your children about the importance of gratitude and why “thank you” really needs to be said.
Hold the Door - Holding the door for someone is easily the nicest way to help someone while validating that you see them as a person. There is no more of a cold act then have a door slam shut in your face. Holding the door warms the soul and lends a helping hand. Your kids can show respect by holding the door for their parents and others. Plus it keeps them still at the door so you can make sure they don’t run off as soon as they get in the store!
Table Manners - We’ve all been there. You’re at a restaurant and your kid puts his foot up on the table and eats with his mouth open while staring at the couple sitting across from you. Were you really raising a viking this whole time? Explain to your kids why it is important to keep their feet off the table and chew with their mouths closed, don’t just tell them to do it. Praise them when they get it right. As a parent you can receive no better affirmation at a restaurant when someone complements your child on their excellent behavior.
Greeting Adults Properly - It seems that kids greet new adults one of two ways. They either march up to them and ask why they smell like old clothes or they hide behind you. Learning how to properly greet someone is a fundamental skill that can open doors for your children now and when they are older. Try role playing with them. You be the kid and let them be the adult. Run away from them or ask them why they’re so short. Let them see how they act. Then switch roles and do the greeting properly.
Also from a safety aspect, kids need to talk to as many adults as possible. We’ve heard the advice for kids: “don’t talk to strangers.” In his book Protecting the Gift, Gavin de Becker explains, “The irony is that if your child is ever lost in public the ability to talk to strangers is actually the single greatest asset he could have.” So while our children are young and with you, encourage them to talk to the waiter at a restaurant or the employee behind the counter. Your children need to build up experience talking to as many people as they can. This way they know what a good person acts like and then can recognize what a threat looks like when the encounter one.
My kid doesn’t have all of these down. This post is just as much for me at it is anyone. He is very uncomfortable meeting new people. I just got him to wave at passing cars in our neighborhood. Baby steps. I don’t expect my kid to get this stuff overnight, and you don’t need to expect yours to as well. Take it one situation at a time. Good luck! We’re all in this together!