Etiquette isn’t just for special occasions like parties. It’s a way of life that every parent should teach their children for all times and in all situations. Having good manners is the way to practice Jesus’ advice to do to others as you would have them do to you.

Here’s how you can teach your children good manners:

Understand that children are works in process. Realize that children are not miniature adults; they’re in the process of learning what is and isn’t appropriate behavior. Don’t be embarrassed when they make mistakes. Only be embarrassed if you fail to deal with your children’s misbehavior.

Fill your home with love. Show your children the kind of love you want them to embrace themselves – love that is unconditional, sacrificial, and focused on others. Make sure your children know that you will love and accept them whether they succeed or fail.

Center your relationship with your children on what they need from you, rather than on what you’d like them to do for you. Nurture them and encourage them. Give your children clear, consistent, and reasonable boundaries and discipline so they can feel secure. Show physical affection to your children regularly by hugging and kissing them, etc.

Be willing to forgive your children when they make mistakes, and be willing to apologize to them when you make mistakes. Pray for and with your child on a regular basis.

Instill respect in your children. Teach your kids that people and things have value and should be treated as such. Live a life of integrity yourself so you’ll be personally worthy of your children’s respect.

Teach your kids to address adults with titles and last names (Mr. Jones, Mrs. Smith, Miss Chang, etc.) unless the adults have given your children permission to use their first names (Mr. Bob, Miss Jen, etc.). Tell your children to stand when introduced to an adult, respond when adults speak to them, offer their seats to adults, and refrain from interrupting adult conversations unless in true emergencies. Help your kids learn to obey you by reminding them that their correct response whenever you ask them to do something is, "OK, Mom (or Dad)." When they make a mistake (such as by running through the house), encourage them to do the task over to get it right (walking rather than running). Remind your children not to use disrespectful words or a rude tone of voice, and model that behavior for them in your own life. Monitor the kind of media to which your kids are exposed so you can be sure that they’re learning from good role models.

Show respect for your children by listening when they speak, allowing them to make age-appropriate choices, never demeaning or embarrassing them, being considerate of their needs, validating their feelings, allowing them to have personal space and things, understanding their emotions, and giving them permission to voice personal opinions and concerns. Teach your kids to respect their siblings by prohibiting hitting or biting, name calling, or using personal items (toys, clothes, etc.) without permission. Teach your children to behave respectfully in public venues. Teach them not to damage material things or litter in public places. Teach them to treat all living things – especially animals – with care.

Be proactive. Don’t just react to wrong behaviors you see your children demonstrate. Instead, purposely teach them right values and behaviors. Rehearse how you’d like your kids to act in particular situations before they’re in those situations. Help them practice the specific manners you’re trying to teach them. Remind them gently to help them learn. Use both positive and negative reinforcement whenever it can most powerfully motivate your children. Help your kids reflect on their behavior and how it affects other people by asking them questions to stimulate their thinking and discussing it with them.

Show what unselfish living looks like. Treat others with kindness, share your money and possessions with the less fortunate, and volunteer your time to model an unselfish life for your kids. Remember that values are caught, not merely taught. Require your kids to help with household chores, and allow them to pursue service opportunities. Teach them to treat guests well, be grateful for what they have, take turns, and open doors for others. Resist the temptation to spoil your children; say "no" sometimes and stick to it.

Teach the magic words. Teach your kids the value of words like "please," "thank you," "excuse me," "you’re welcome," and "I’m sorry." Explain when to use these words, and why it’s important to do so.

Teach wise behavior in public. When they’re in public, your children should not: Use loud voices, run indoors, talking in a place like church or the movies where others are trying to listen, cut in line, stand or sit too closely to others, use others’ personal belongings without permission, treat a store like a playground, stand in shopping carts, talk when others are speaking, comb their hair, bite their nails, or pick their noses or ears.

They should: Take turns; wait their turn; stay beside parents unless given permission to do otherwise; cover their mouths when they cough, sneeze, burp, or yawn; stay seated and still when traveling on a bus, train, or plane; place their trash in trash cans; and chew gum quietly.

Teach wise behavior with strangers. Make sure your children greet new people politely whenever you introduce them to them. But when dealing with strangers, teach them not to: speak to a strange adult when alone or when no other adult is present; answer a stranger’s questions; go near a stranger’s car; accept anything from a stranger; answer the door by themselves; leave a house, yard, or playground without permission; or give out personal information when chatting on the Internet.

Teach basic hygiene. Teach your kids to take a daily bath or shower, wash their hands before eating, brush their teeth each morning and evening, etc.

Teach introductions. Let your children know that a boy is always introduced to a girl (therefore, they should say the girl’s name first), a younger person is always introduced to an older person (therefore, they should say the older person’s name first), and a person under authority is introduced to a person with authority (therefore, they should say the person with authority’s name first).

When making introductions, have your kids speak slowly and clearly; look at each person while saying his or her name; use phrases such as "This is," "I would like you to meet," or "May I present?"; use first and last names, and say something about each person (such as, "Mom, this is Kevin Smith. He’s on my soccer team.")

Teach the value of getting to know others. Teach your kids to communicate genuine interest in other people by listening carefully to them and asking them questions about their lives.

Teach good table manners. Make it a high priority to eat meals together as a family as often as possible. Teach your children how to properly set a table (for both informal and formal meals). Teach them to chew with their mouths closed, place their napkins on their laps, and keep their elbows off the table. Allow your kids to order their own meals when dining out. Treat each of your children to a special dinner once he or she has mastered a specific table manner.

Teach good telephone and Internet manners. Teach your kids to speak slowly and clearly on the phone. When answering calls, have them say, "Hello. This is the (your last name) residence." If callers don’t identify themselves, have your children say, "May I ask who is calling, please?" If the call is for someone else, have your kids say, "One moment, please," then put the phone down and go to get the person the call is for (rather than yelling across the house for the person). Teach your kids to take detailed phone messages and to return messages promptly.

When making calls, have your children dial carefully, identify themselves and ask for the people with whom they want to speak, use their full names when calling people other than close friends or family members, leave detailed messages for others, etc. Help your kids understand not to make calls too early (before 8 a.m.), too late (after 9 p.m.), or during the dinner hour without permission.

Make sure your kids each know their own phone number and how to dial 911 in an emergency. Teach your children to turn their cell phones off or set them in silent mode when they are someplace like church or a library where others are trying to concentrate. Teach them to keep their e-mails short and to the point, use discretion since e-mails can be forwarded to others, avoid all capital letters (viewed as shouting in an e-mail), and avoid flaming (foul language, dirty jokes, etc.). Monitor your children’s participation in chat rooms. Place your kids’ computer(s) in a public area of your home – never in their rooms.

Teach good party manners. When your kids are party guests, teach them to always RSVP to invitations, arrive and leave on time, come prepared to participate in planned activities (bringing a swimsuit to a pool party, for instance), be a good sport, talk to everyone there (not just people they already know), and defer to the host or hostess’ wishes.

When your kids are hosting a party, teach them to send invitations so guests will receive them 10 to 14 days before a party, never discuss the party in front of children who are not invited, be dressed and ready to greet guests by a half hour before the party is scheduled to start, greet guests as they arrive, sincerely thank each guest for each gift (whether or not they like the gift) verbally at the party and through a prompt, written thank-you note afterward. Also teach your children to be considerate houseguests.

Help your kids make and keep friends. Teach them to be amiable, loyal, encouraging, respectful, and thoughtful of others. Teach them good sportsmanlike conduct at games and practices (such as arriving on time, accepting officials’ decisions, refraining from booing or derogatory remarks, and shaking hands with players on the opposing team regardless of the outcome). Teach them to treat members of the opposite sex with respect (no sexual jokes or catcalling, boys holding doors open and chairs out for girls and women, etc.).


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Adapted from Taming Your Family Zoo: Six Weeks to Raising a Well-Mannered Child, copyright 2005 by Donna Jones. Published by Fleming H. Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, Mich., www.bakerpublishinggroup.com.

Donna Jones holds a B.A. in interpersonal communication from UCLA and is the cofounder and owner of Confidence & Courtesies, an etiquette course for kids. She’s been teaching children and teens manners since 1988 in both public and private schools and in department stores throughout California. Donna frequently speaks at women’s retreats and MOPS events and is also a featured Bible teacher on the Doing Life Together DVD series. Donna and her family live in south Orange County, California.