Why Are Manners Important In Life? There’s only one thing my son does that bugs me and that’s coughing without putting his hand over his mouth, which he often does over our dinner. We’re tackling this problem at the moment! As soon as he was old enough to understand us and could talk we taught him to say ‘please’ nicely if he wanted something and ‘thank you’ if he was given something. We also get him to say excuse me or pardon me when he burps – although we sometimes have to remind him of this one! In this article, I’m going to be covering everything from how to encourage verbal politeness to negotiating children’s interest in toilet humor and nose-picking!
You might not think that etiquette is actually that much of a problem. After all, with so many other more vital parenting issues to keep on top of, is it really so important that our children eat correctly and say the right things? Is ‘please’ actually such a magic word? And would Grandma even care if she didn’t get a thank you note after Christmas?
Well, yes, yes and yes. Children are naturally inclined to be bad mannered, and etiquette isn’t usually on top of their agendas. But if we want them to co-exist successfully with other civilized folks, we have to teach them to be polite and well mannered – it’s part of the socialization process.
I think that kids should be taught good manners and that the buck starts and stops at home. When we go out to eat, I’ve had comments on how well behaved my girls are and it makes me feel so proud. Obviously, my child’s not perfect, but if she does forget to say please or thank you, she’s reminded of the fact and if she doesn’t say it, she doesn’t get what she’s asking for.
My youngest child doesn’t speak yet, but when she hands me her cup I say thank you, and then thank you again when giving it back to her, so that she gets the idea early on.
I always tell my little girl please and thank you, and I remind her to say it back when she asks for something and when she gets given something. She always used to say ‘what’ if we called out her name, but we kept insisting on ‘pardon’ and now she says that instead. She goes to nursery and has picked up some bad habits but at home, we keep saying ‘please, thank you, and pardon’. We’re now trying to reiterate, ‘May I please?’
She eats with a knife and fork, although sometimes she’s allowed to use her fingers with things that are hard to use with a fork. As she gets older I’m beginning to introduce her to thank you notes. I write them and she signs them with her little squiggle. There may be a bit of a way to go yet before she understands! It’s nice when children have a good attitude and I think it does start at home. If they pick up bad manners elsewhere, then you need to keep banging the message back in.
Last year, on holiday, we sat with an elderly couple who were amazed at how polite and well mannered our children were. They would go up and help themselves to the food and said ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ to the waiting staff in Spanish. The head waiter told us they were a credit to us.
We really can take them anywhere. I think one of the reasons they are so polite is because we lead by example. My husband and I always remember to say please and thank you when we talk to them, so they do so in return.
Showing gratitude and asking politely are the most basic of social skills and, whatever your view on manners, every child needs to acquire them, so ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, or at least something that passes for them, should be among the first words in their vocabulary. Even when they don’t actually understand what those words mean (and it’s common for little ones to get confused between the two), it’s good for them to understand their importance, which if you reiterate them enough, they soon will.
Children can be taught the words ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ right from the start – certainly, once they’ve reached their first birthday. They can also be taught not to interrupt conversations or demand everything they want. Other basics include learning to pass food to others at the table, and not barging through doors or lounging on the sofa so that no one can sit down.
Be liberal with other important verbal gestures like ‘excuse me’, ‘pardon’ and ‘sorry’ – the precise wording isn’t important, but the sentiment is.
As a youngster, my grandmother instilled in me the importance of writing thank you notes. Children need to be taught at a young age that a gift is not a requirement. The person giving the gift took their time, and probably money and spent it on them. When you receive a gift, it is important to thank the person for taking the time and energy to do something nice for you.
Thank you letters may seem like a bit of a chore after birthdays and Christmas, especially if they’ve had a party and 25 young guests need a written show of gratitude for their gift. But they are generally expected and, certainly where older relatives are concerned, usually much appreciated. If they’re not old enough to write their own, write them on their behalf and get them to at least sign or add kisses, or exploit their creative abilities.
When it comes to mealtime manners, you have to be realistic – remember, it’s actually a cognitive challenge for little ones to master cutlery and eat without scattering food all over the table and floor. And even for older kids, keeping peas on a fork can be a tricky business, so be tolerant: unless you’ve been invited to dine with Her Majesty herself, children shouldn’t be expected to perform like students from finishing school.
That said, there’s no harm in encouraging good table manners as soon as they’ve mastered the art of putting food in their own mouths. And once they’re old enough to eat carefully and politely, and to understand the various rules – whatever they may be in your house – you’re well within your rights to enforce them.
What are the rights and wrongs of table manners? It comes down to what’s acceptable in your family, but common no-nos are talking with a full mouth, getting down before others have finished – or at least until they’ve asked to be excused – and licking plates or knives (this last is a question of safety as much as good manners!)
With table manners, they can start as young as possible, but it’s important not to overdo things early on. Try and make it light-hearted. Teach them not to eat with their mouths open or speak with their mouths full, and to eat different foods politely rather than screaming ‘I don’t like it!‘ They can be shown how to hold their cutlery properly as soon as they are physically able. They should ask if they can get down from the table.
Burps and blow-offs aren’t a problem in most families – in fact, some see them as a source of hilarity or even competition. At some point, there comes a time and a place where they are not appropriate, but kids will usually work out for themselves when and where. Meanwhile, decide whether, at home, farting is funny or foul, and try and stick with that.
There are all sorts of other disgusting personal habits which kids enjoy and – truth be told – they’ve probably picked up from observing the adults around them. If you don’t like them picking their nose, tell them so, but don’t make a big deal out of it, because it will probably have the opposite effect. If you’re worried they’ll do it at an inappropriate moment, during a visit from your mother-in-law, for example, have a quiet word beforehand.
With that said, when it comes to burps and other ‘noises’ the best thing is to ignore it, if you can. Once children know they have an audience they usually play to it. One doesn’t want to make them anally retentive, but that sort of thing is anti-social once they grow out of the cute stage.
We have gathered several worksheets to help you teach your child Why Manners Are Important In Society. You can find them plus other helpful free resources here.