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!"
And off we drive, either lecturing Lauren all the way home, or equally as bad, simply dropping the subject all together. Either way, we feel like parental losers.
A better way is to embrace the necessity of reminding our children about the kind of behavior we expect-kind, considerate, appropriate, behavior-before the fact, not merely after.
While children do need to learn personal responsibility, and as they grow older our reminders should become less frequent, we, as parents, need to realize that reminders are a vital part of a child's learning process. If we view reminding as part of raising our well-mannered child, it can free us from becoming frustrated moms and dads.
I don't know how many times I have reminded my children about good party manners while on the way to celebrate a friend's birthday.
"What will you say to Mrs. Barker when you leave?"
"Thank you for having me."
"Will you ask for the biggest piece of cake with the rose on top?"
"What will you say when you are given food or a drink?"
"What should you do if they play a game you don't like?"
"Play anyway, with a happy attitude."
Similar scenarios have been played out in my SUV with topics ranging from party manners to meeting adults, to being in a place of business, to sitting quietly at church, and most recently, job interview skills and dating etiquette. You name it-we've role-played it. And these conversations have served as necessary reminders to help my children live out a life of love and respect for others.
But refreshing our children's memories about appropriate behavior doesn't stop when the seat belts are unbuckled and car doors slammed shut. No, children, especially younger children, often need prompts to remember their manners. This especially holds true for toddlers and preschoolers. You can be sure that a three-year-old birthday girl will need to be reminded to thank each child for his or her gift as she rips into two dozen assorted toys, dress-ups, and games-all just for her. Count on it. Anticipate it. Rehearse it. And when the time comes, prompt it. Give your little birthday girl a moment or two, just in case she remembers on her own. But if she does not, gently ask, "What do you say?" If you have instructed and rehearsed beforehand, this is usually enough to prompt your child to politely say, "Thank you."
During my children's early years, I found this same gentle reminder useful to help them in a number of different situations. Upon meeting an adult, a sweetly whispered "What do you say?" reminded my daughter to look the adult in the eye and say, "It's nice to meet you." When leaving a friend's home, a gentle "What do you say?" reminded my son to say, "Thank you for having me." When my young children have inadvertently gotten up from the dinner table without being excused, "What do you say?" has reminded them to say, "Thank you for dinner, Mom. May I please be excused?" For older kids one-word prompts, such as napkin, posture, or tone, can be effective ways to remind your child about proper behavior. Through the use of repetition and prompts, children come to make these niceties habits of their own. They become not just your manners, but theirs. And moment by moment, day by day, you begin to tame your family zoo.
[Note that the way in which we remind our children is every bit as important as the reminder itself. If our reminders are barked as commands or said in a way that embarrasses or demeans our children, we will most certainly not raise confident kids who love and respect God, themselves, or others. Gentleness is imperative. We are to encourage our children, not exasperate them. We can encourage them to become kind and considerate people when we use gentle reminders to help them learn.]
Excerpted from: Taming Y our Family Zoo: Six Weeks to Raising a Well-Mannered Child by Donna Jones. Copyright © 2005. Published by Revell Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group. Used by permission. Unauthorized duplication prohibited.
Donna Jones is cofounder of Confidence & Courtesies, an etiquette course for kids, and has been teaching manners for sixteen years.
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