Jul 24, 2012

Teaching Traditional Manners/Behavior to Children

Teaching your children politeness and manners is not something that happens overnight or even likely by age two. It is a balancing act of establishing your expectations for good manners to your children while purposefully modeling the appropriate behavior that you wish to teach them. You will be less successful teaching your child to say "thank you" or to be a good sport if you yourself do not display verbal gratitude and a cheerful spirit despite the outcome of the game. Let's talk about what behaviors and manners my family values and how we plan to guide our children to learn our expectations.

Among others, here are ten manners/behaviors we would like to instill in our children:

1) Politeness at the table.

Let's just go with some examples:
  • We do not get down to leave the table before everyone is done eating or you've been excused. 
  • No standing in your chair.
  • No talking over the adults conversation (meaning no interrupting but we do like to include them in conversation during the meal).
  • No throwing food or utensils or entire plates...no throwing in general at the table.
  • By age three we expect the children to take at least one bite to taste each food served for the meal. Often times we find that the kids end up liking the foods but were turning their noses up out of pure toddler stubbornness. There are some foods the kids just really don't like and I try to keep each family member's preferences in mind when I cook as much as possible.
  • No talking with mouths full.
  • We request the kids help take their dirty dishes to the sink or counter after each meal. Its become pretty much a habit for our 3 and 4 year old.

2) Calling elders by Mr. and Mrs. and not by their first names.

Maybe its my old-fashioned, southern upbringing or maybe its just the waning conservative and traditional stance but when I was young, it was just plain rude for a child to address an adult by their first name. My children will be directed to refer to all adults by Mr. "Johnson" or Mrs. "Stone" despite what society dictates as acceptable or respectful.

3) Saying "yes, ma'am" and "no, sir."

We expect our children to say "yes, ma'am" and "yes, sir" when we request they do something and a response is appropriate. When we start out teaching this to our young children, we direct them to say "yes, mama" or "no, dada" from as young as they are capable of completing two word phrases. We slowly switch over to the "yes, sir" as they get older and can better understand. This is mainly something we empathize in their interactions with me and their father because they can certainly develop attitudes and speak in tones or ways that are disrespectful of their parents from a young age.

4) Picking up after themselves.

As with all of these learned behaviors, this one is a work-in-progress. It is one of our kids' "chores" to help us pick up the toys throughout the day. I also discuss (as with other behaviors - talking to your kids is a great way to help them understand the "why" of the behavior which helps build a better foundation) how its easier to pick up our toys after we're done with each one instead of picking up in the evening after an entire day or dumping and playing. Not only is it polite behavior for my children to keep our home tidy after they play but this behavior (also a matter worthy of repeated discussion) is expected of my children when they are away from home too. We try to have them pick up the toys they are playing with when they leave Sunday school or a friend's house.

5) Holding doors open.

As my children are rather young, thus far, it has been a matter of teaching my 3 and 4 year old boys to hold the door open for their younger siblings and their parents. Usually, I am carrying an arm load of bags, sippy cups, and kicked off shoes into our house from the car, so they are being helpful and polite by holding the door open so I can safely entire our house with all my cargo. It is also polite for boys to hold doors for ladies and sisters and mothers. And, we intend to inspire this attitude in them. Our daughter will also be instructed to help hold the door should a gentleman not be present. I still hold the door open for anyone who is behind me and especially older folks and new moms and children. Its just good manners.

6) Say "excuse me" and "bless you" at the appropriate moment.

This one is fairly simple. If someone sneezes we say "bless you." If someone does something rude they say "excuse me." If you almost bump into someone or need to walk past someone in a tight spot say "excuse me." My middle child, from a rather young age, picked up on saying "bless you" when someone sneezes and it was just so cute to hear "bless you mama" from him. Along these lines, is learning to take a notice of other people around you. Often times, I ask the children if one falls or knocks their head or foot on something, "are you okay?" The simple query of their well being shows I care and they have picked up on this. I've overheard the kids ask each other "are you okay?" in moments of one sibling tripping or hurting themselves.

7) Pray before we eat.

In our family, we pause before a meal to say "thank you" to God for His provision of food. My husband often instructs our children to thank me as well for preparing a meal. Essentially practicing gratitude and appreciation is good behavior. This pretty much goes along with our next manner.

8) Say "please" and "thank you."

This is probably the first and most basic of manners we teach our kids. We do still remind them but I have high hopes they will master this one on their own one of these days. ☺ This one is something I really try to model for the children myself. When my youngest hands me one piece of silverware at a time for me to place in the silverware drawer, I thank her for each one. I try to remember to say "please" and "thank you" when I request one of the boys to pick up something or run to fetch me something. Its not only good manners for me to do so but also helps them to see what I mean through my example not just my instruction.

9) Good sportsmanship.

This one we haven't had to emphasize yet but we will soon as our boys will likely be participating in their first "sport" activity this fall. We also like to play board games and have, thus far, been successful about making the playing out to be the fun more so than the winning. I hope this attitude continues! We will take this one as it comes. With sports and games and competition, the emphasis should be on the time spent with friends and family, the skills learned, and the fun of the event but not on the understanding of winning being the goal. Trying your best and enjoying yourself is the goal. Winning graciously is as much of a learned behavior as losing graciously.

10) Respectful of others.

In this life, we will meet many people. Some people will not agree with our ethics, our choices, or our faith. We do not have to agree or approve of other people's choices (especially if they are contrary to the Bible) but we should always be respectful. Respectful isn't condoning another person's behavior or turning a blind-eye, but it is being polite and kind and praying for them. We are treating them as we want to be treated. And, as kids get older, there is always room to teach healthy and respectful debate skills. Speaking a disagreement with someone doesn't have to be disrespectful. And, debate can be fun. ☺

We will continue to emphasize good behavior and praise our kids' efforts to practice good manners. We will teach them Godly principles and trust in Proverbs 22:6 where it says, "Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it."

What manners are important in your home?

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  1. Shari, I think you have it covered!! It is so neat to see parents really work to teach manners to their children. They are blessed, and you will be called blessed when they are older :) Thanks for sharing this excellent post!

    1. Thank you for your kind comment and for the encouragement!

  2. Our manners are similar. We differ a little in the Mr. or Ms. with the last name. We direct our boys to call someone Mr. or Ms. with the last name until the elder they are speaking to asks them to call them by his/her first name then we still require the Mr or Ms in front of it. To us it does not matter what other families are doing because we want children who know how to respect others and are delightful to be around. I commend you because these things are counter-cultural so I commend you. Keep up the hard work.


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