Teaching good manners builds foundation of self-control and confidence.
As we read the classic Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder, my 10-year-old daughter gasped in surprise at the good manners expected of the children. During dinner, the characters Laura and Mary were to be seen but not heard. “Did that really happen?” Rachel asked.
“Yes,” I responded with a laugh. “A lot has changed since then.”
“Many children today have lost respect for their parents with good reason,” says Rita Woodard, a certified etiquette instructor at Southern Grace in Murfreesboro. “Children are being raised on fast food and microwave meals. Families are not sitting down together at the dinner table as much as the generations before them.”
Why? “Many modern parents declare it old-fashioned and turn up their noses at the importance of teaching manners – an antiquated ritual, super uncool,” says Aaron Cooper, co-author of I Just Want My Kids to be Happy: Why You Shouldn‘t Say It, Why You Shouldn‘t Think It, What You Should Embrace Instead (Late August Press; $15.95) . “What well-intentioned moms and dads forget is that acquiring manners is one of the earliest ways to help kids develop self-control. And self-control, experts agree, is a key element in paving the foundation for a happy life.”
“Quite often the typical family is going in many different directions with sports, electronics, social lives, church, etc.,” says etiquette consultant and advisor Roxy Blomstrom, founder of Manners Matter School of Protocol in Franklin. “Often we are busy with the stuff of life and need to diligently make time for our children regarding meals together, play, games, vacations or just sitting down and enjoying each other’s company.”
It makes the kids unhappy when parents insist on manners – and today, parents just want their kids to be happy, Cooper says. “After one or both parents have worked all day, it’s harmony they’re looking for, not the inevitable struggle when they insist on manners,” he says. Parents now would rather be “friends” with their kids than authoritative limit-setters, and friends don’t insist on manners, he says. But manners are not the same thing as respect – yet the two go hand-in-hand.
“Children must be taught parental respect from an early age,” says Carol Holland of First Impressions Consulting in Franklin.
“Cultural and lifestyle changes in the past few decades have reduced the time and attention to such teaching. In turn, parents have lower expectations for children’s show of respect.”
Role Modeling Respect
In Little House in the Big Woods, Pa tells his daughters a beloved bedtime story when Laura cuts off Mary in the middle a question. “Laura, that is very rude. You must never interrupt,” Pa says.
To teach respect, parents need to point out and model courtesies in the home, just as Pa did for his girls. “First, parents must learn how to turn off their distractions, like cell phones, e-mail, etc., and sit down with their children and have conversations with them,” says Woodard.
If it’s not an emergency, children need to learn to wait their turn in conversation. Depending on the child’s age, acknowledge them by taking their hand or putting your arm around them. Then invite them to speak when it’s appropriate.
If a parent is always in a rush, their voice may sound overly demanding. Set standards in the family – no name calling and no insulting one another. When the children are in school, those expectations have been set. Hopefully, the good manners will carry into their classrooms and other public settings.
“A child is like a sponge and picks up on what a parent does and says,” Woodard says. “Grown-ups should practice saying, ‘please,’ ‘thank you,’ ‘excuse me,’ ‘I’m sorry,’ etc. A child will model the behavior he sees in his parents.”
“Parents being role models and setting examples are key to a loving and respectful family,” says Blomstrom. “It takes a lot of time, repetition, patience, understanding and genuine love that conquers all. The key is not to give up or give in when you know what your child needs. Parents should also never talk down to children.”
“Children are very observant,” says Denise Davis of White Gloves and Party Manners in Franklin. “They see you in many situations and how you are as a human being is how they believe it is correct to respond.”
As parents go throughout the days with their children, it’s the little courtesies that make a big difference. From holding doors open to helping one another with chores, parents can model and encourage good manners and respect for others in their children every day – in and out of the home.
“Parents say they want their kids to be happy, but without the capacity for self-control, few kids can ever enjoy real happiness,” Cooper says. Teaching respect is one way parents can put their money where their mouths are.
Kim Seidel is a writer and a mother of two young daughters. She strives to model good manners for her family. Kiera Ashford is associate editor for this publication.
- Teach your children about recognizing their feelings and using “I” statements when they communicate. This can help to prevent arguing, name calling and other rude behaviors.
- Create a sense of sharing in the home. Invite friends over to have popcorn and to watch a movie, and tell your children, “There are plenty of snacks to go around for everyone.”
- Enjoy family dinner together as much as possible to have conversations together and build respect among family members.
- Show good sportsmanship when competing in games.
- Encourage children to respect their property, their rooms, their home.
- When borrowing something, make sure your child returns it in a timely manner.
- Set the standard high for proper language in your home. Swearing should be discouraged always!