How to Raise a Well-Mannered Child
- Wednesday, May 18, 2005
Want to raise a well-mannered child without ever nagging again? Become a proactive parent.
"Thank you for dinner, Mrs. Porter. It was delicious. May I be excused, please?"
Every adult at the table stared open-mouthed in awe at four-year-old Ryan. I gazed in admiration at Ryan's mother.
No child learns manners by osmosis. Children must be taught. You can be sure that Ryan didn't spout out his gratitude for dinner on his own initiative. Without a doubt, Ryan's parents had rehearsed this moment, and when the moment came, Ryan knew what to do.
Proactive rehearsal is more than simply telling your child what to do. Plenty of parents tell their children what to do and still end up raising out-of-control kids. Proactive rehearsal involves showing your child what to do and allowing your child to practice.
The best way to begin is to choose just one skill you would like your child to learn or improve. Attempting to teach your child more than one skill at a time is certain to leave your child overwhelmed and you frustrated. Pique your child's interest in learning this skill or pick a skill your child is eager to learn already. Seize a teachable moment, such as an upcoming special event or sleepover or party your child plans to attend. Young children can be motivated by allowing them to learn a "big girl" or "big boy" thing. With older children you may want to appeal to their desire to be likeable or feel more self-confident. Show your child how learning this particular good manner will benefit her or how not learning it will hinder her.
Next, teach the skill in a relaxed, fun environment. It's OK to be silly and have fun teaching manners. Now is not the time to lay on the pressure or give a sixty-minute lecture. When I teach the Confidence & Courtesies class, I often do silly, exaggerated things, such as chew with my mouth open or talk too loudly or answer the phone with a "Yeah, what?" to show the children how "bad" manners look. We all end up laughing, and the kids get the picture of why good manners are important.
Finally, rehearse with your child. It is not enough to tell your child what to do; you must practice with your child as well. Experts tell us that we remember only 20 percent of what we hear, 30 percent of what we see, and 50 percent of what we see and hear. Yet we remember a whopping 90 percent of what we see, hear, and do.
So lug out that old toy telephone or cell phone to practice phone manners; introduce your child to her father or brother or sister to practice meeting others; allow your child to set the dinner table to learn table manners. Knowing which plate is my salad plate and which is my bread plate, for instance, helps me behave with proper manners at the table. Practice and rehearse whatever you wish your child to learn. You'll stay one step ahead of your child, and your child will be prepared to succeed in becoming a person who loves and respects God and others.
So, all we have to do is rehearse with our child and she will supernaturally become a miniature Emily Post, right?
Yet, if we are honest, this is sometimes what we expect. We find ourselves becoming exasperated with our child when we must remind her of something we know she has been taught. I've seen it a hundred times -- and I've done it myself. Most likely, so have you. It goes something like this:
"Lauren, did you thank Mrs. Smith for having you over to play today?"
(Meekly) "No . ."
(Exasperated) "No? Why not? Lauren, you know better!"
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