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Five Points to Teaching Good Manners

  • Carol J. Alexander The Old Schoolhouse
  • Updated Jan 05, 2011
Five Points to Teaching Good Manners

Since we live in a rural area, I frequently call stores to find out if they carry a certain item or to check a price. Too often, I have conversations like this one with the young person who answers the phone:

Ring, ring.

"Yeah, like, Joe's Everything Mart, here."

"Hi, I'm calling to see if you sell Zach's Newest Widget."

"Well, like, I really don't know."

"I live 20 miles from town. Do you think you could save me a trip and check?"

"Like, I guess so, but you might have to hang on, like for a long time, cause like, I have to walk all the way    to the back of the store."

"Thank you so much. I don't mind holding."

"Okay, lady, like hang on."

Five minutes later . . .

"Yeah, we got 'em."

"Do you have blue ones?"

 "Don't know."

 "Can you tell me how much they cost?"


By now, I'm wondering how this teenager got this job, what positive qualities she possesses that allow her to keep the job, and why in the world her mother didn't teach her any manners. The good news is that you can do better with your children.

1. Begin early. Besides mama and dada, a child's early vocabulary should include please and thank you. We taught our last two children sign language when they were six months old, and they were signing these phrases before they could speak them. Even if they do not understand the meaning, they do learn when to say them.

2. Explain the purpose behind the behavior you are trying to instill. We do not run through the church after the service lets out, because we could knock down an elderly person who has trouble walking. We do not interrupt an adult who is speaking, because it is disrespectful. We do not touch other people's things without asking, because we would want the same courtesy shown to us. It helps to reinforce our explanations with Bible stories or Scripture memory verses.

3. Make learning the new behavior fun or rewarding. In order to reinforce good table manners with their boys, Jerry and Donna set several tiny toy cars next to each plate. When one person witnessed another person's bad manners, such as reaching across the table or eating with fingers, he could ask for one of the other person's cars. At the end of the meal, everyone got to keep the cars they ended up with.

If a child struggles with a particular behavior, use a sticker chart to acknowledge and reward his progress. Each time you observe a choice that results in desirable behavior, put a sticker on the chart. When the chart is full, he gets a reward—like getting ice cream with Dad.

Role-playing is an effective way to teach phone manners. Unless you want your child to behave like the one who answered the phone at Joe's Everything Mart, play-act with her. Make calls between the house phone and the cell phone in order to practice answering the phone politely and appropriately, placing a caller on hold, or taking a message.

4. Remember the age of your child. Sometimes we fail to realize that our children are children and therefore expect too much of them. Oftentimes, we make the mistake of trying to teach too much at a time. Concentrate on one area, such as table manners, for one week, and then change your focus the following week to a new goal, such as learning to share.

5. Demonstrate more than teach. If things seem to be going slowly, don't despair. Chances are if Dad doesn't make a habit of burping at the table, then 5-year-old Johnny won't go off to college burping either. He will eventually figure out that burping is inappropriate.

Biblical References

"And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you." (Ephesians 4:32)

"Withhold not good from them to whom it is due, when it is in the power of thine hand to do it." (Proverbs 3:27)

"Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets." (Matthew 7:12)

"Keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking guile." (Psalm 34:13)

". . . Speak evil of no man . . . ." (Titus 3:2)

"A false witness shall not be unpunished, and he that speaketh lies shall perish." (Proverbs 19:9)

"Do all things without murmurings and disputings." (Philippians 2:14)

"Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people." (Leviticus 19:16)

"The words of a talebearer are as wounds, and they go down into the innermost parts of the belly." (Proverbs 18:8)

"We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves." (Romans 15:1)

"Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ." (Galatians 6:2)

"Hast thou found honey? eat so much as is sufficient for thee, lest thou be filled therewith, and vomit it."

(Proverbs 25:16)

Freelance writer Carol J. Alexander has spent the last fifteen years homeschooling and looks forward to another twelve or so. She lives and learns with her husband, four of their six children, and various critters on their modest homestead in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. You can read more of Carol's homeschooling, homesteading, or homemaking advice on her blog,

Copyright 2010. Originally appeared in The Old Schoolhouse Magazine®, Summer 2010. Used with permission.

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