For many of you reading this article, your children are too young to teach good manners. You are still trying to get them to sleep through the night or to drink from a cup or your child is only beginning to talk and name objects. But it is never too early to begin demonstrating good manners by the way you act and talk and relate to others. And it will be sooner than you imagine that your baby is able to practice speaking and acting politely. Helping your child learn to use good manners will get him noticed- for all the right reasons!
All of us want our children to have good manners. Proverbs 20:11 tells us, “Even a child is known by his actions, by whether his conduct is pure and right.” Parents.com published an article with 25 manners kids should know. It is a rather daunting task, but good manners can gently be taught in our normal family interactions.
Like so many other things we want our children to learn, our example is the best teacher. Children want to copy mom and dad. They want to do what we do, the way we do it. They will notice when others don’t do it like we do and we have a good opportunity to explain our reasons to them. We need to talk about good manners and remind our children. Then, if we are consistent, a time will come that our children use good manners automatically.
Jesus summed up good behavior, including good manners, when He said we should do to others like we would like others to do to us.
So what are some of the non-negotiable good manners we need to teach our children? The three most important things to say, ‘Please,’ ‘Thank you,’ and ‘Excuse me.’ We should use these when we talk to our children and teach them to say these appropriately. When we lived in Africa, a student wanted to know why we said, ‘Please’ and ‘Thank you,’ to our children. We said that we wanted them to learn to say them. He said in their culture a parent never says, ‘Please’ or ‘Thank you’ to their child because their child is in a lower station than they are. So using please and thank you in our home was also teaching that everyone is equal to everyone else.
Then other important manners to teach children are things we never say in public. Let your children know they can always ask you questions when they are alone with you, but not to say them in public.
First is not commenting on other people’s physical characteristics. Most of us have heard a child comment loudly, ‘That lady has a large behind’ or ‘That man is black’ or ‘That person talks funny.’ It will take diligence to head off comments like these and promise to talk about them in the car or at home. Then you can teach your children about the great variety of people God made and that they are all special.
Also we need to teach never to make fun of anyone for any reason or call people names. Usually reminding our children how bad they feel when someone calls them names or teases them, impresses them to be kinder in their speech. We had a very dear neighbor with ill-fitting dentures when my sisters and I were small. I remember parodying her mouth by sticking my tongue between my bottom lip and teeth and trying to talk. We were laughing ourselves to hysterics. When my mom found us, we learned very quickly and permanently that this was cruel and we were never to make fun of our friendly neighbor again.
Table manners are important too, but these really depend a lot on the people we usually eat with and our child’s ability to handle utensils. We live in a multicultural country. In one day we may eat breakfast with our hand, lunch with chopsticks and a Chinese spoon, and dinner with a knife and fork. Everyone here is pretty non-judgmental about how one eats and with which utensils.
When we lived in Nigeria, however, two neighboring tribes ate differently with their hands. In one tribe it was poor manners to let the sauce get beyond the second knuckle of one’s fingers. In the other tribe they ate with their whole hand, sauce everywhere. When I asked their reasons, the ones who use their whole hand said, ‘Only thieves are very careful how they touch things. We don’t trust people who are so careful with the sauce.’ The moral of the story: teach your children to eat in a way that is acceptable to the people around you. When they are older or going to visit those from a different culture, that will be the time to teach them new ways to eat.
Things we can teach fairly early include keeping the food on their plate or in their bowl, not talking with food in their mouth, and never criticizing the food on the table. These take time and patience to teach, but they are manners well worth learning.
We can train our kids in good manners by role-playing at home. Giving them lots of practice in a non-threatening atmosphere teaches children what they are to do in public. In Malaysia virtually everyone teaches their children to acknowledge meeting relatives, friends, and new acquaintances. This is such a beautiful custom and distinguishes well trained kids. Practicing this at home and with friends and relatives who are agreeable helps even the shiest children to feel comfortable in public.
Finally, manners should be taught more as a game or sport rather than with discipline and censure. When we challenge each other to see who can eat a whole meal without talking with food in their mouths or greeting each relative at a gathering properly, we make learning new manners or practicing ones we are not good at, fun and easier to learn.
My mother said she wanted to raise children other people would enjoy. Teaching good manners as our children are old enough to learn is a great way to have children others like to have around.