My husband grew up in a military family so good manners were a really big deal and he has beautiful manners. He’s not from the South, but he’s even got the Sir/Ma’am thing down. Manners are so important to him, or rather, bad manners are so offensive to him, that I refer to him as the Manners Nazi.
I, on the other hand, was raised by parents a generation older than my peer’s parents. My husband thinks I was raised by wolves. Naturally, the responsibility for teaching our kids manners is all him. After he stayed home with our first, the outcome was so positive that I tried to emulate what he did. And, as our children have ventured off on independent playdates, sleepovers, and dinners at other people’s houses, it was clear to us how important instilling manners at a VERY YOUNG age is. It’s a gift that keeps on giving.
We, as parents, notice when play dates come over and 1) say “please,” “thank you” and “no, thank you”, 2) clear their dishes without being asked, and 3) make eye contact. We also notice when play dates come over and 1) touch all the food on the communal platter before selecting their choice, 2) leave their dishes at the table, and 3) forget the “thank you” part of “no”. We really want the first group to hang out at our house! Wouldn’t you too?!
But, how do good manners happen? What parenting did or did not happen in group two? I’m not sure, but here’s what worked for us:
From birth until your last dying breath (although by 4-5 years old seems to penetrate the inner recesses of their brains)
- Model polite language. Talk to your baby before s/he is talking and ALWAYS say “please”, “thank you” and “no, thank you” so much so that you start to correct adults by accident.
- As your child begins to talk, correct EVERY SINGLE INSTANCE that s/he fails to say “please”, “thank you” and “no, thank you.” You will feel like an automaton but that is okay.
- Give recognition every time your child says “please,” “thank you” and “no, thank you.” Positive reinforcement is what seals the deal. First, the positive reinforcement will come from you, but …
- soon it will come from complete strangers and you can bask in your achievement because no one expects this from a 2, 3, or 4- 4-year-old!
- By age 5, saying “please,” “thank you” and “no thank you” will become automatic. Yay! The first phase is completed!
From age 3-5, teach your children to:
- Ask to be excused from the table.
- Clear their plate and utensils after every meal. First to the general vicinity of the kitchen. Then to the sink. Finally, scrape the plate and bring it to the kitchen. (a big help for Mom!)
- Make eye contact when speaking.
- Hold the door if someone is behind you. If you have a son, teach him “Ladies first” when holding the door.
- By age 5-7, this will become automatic. Yay! The second phase is completed!
From 2-10, talk about gratitude…
- Thank the cook for every meal. “Thank you Dad for this nice meal.”
- Thank the mom, dad, and birthday child for the nice party. “Thank you for the nice party.” “Goodbye and happy birthday.”
- Say what you are thankful for…we don’t do this every meal, but we sometimes hold hands and go around the table. The kids will sometimes say the funniest things so for comedy value alone, this is very worthwhile. Yay! The third phase is completed! Your child has all the basics to function independently. Sit back and let the parents tell you how wonderfully polite your child was at their house. You deserve it. Your work is not done (when is it ever done?), but the foundation has been laid and it’s a solid one!
Honestly, good manners are as simple as a consistent, “please,” “thank you” and “no, thank you”. Aren’t these the first words we learn when we arrive in a foreign country? Even before, “Where is the bathroom?” It makes the world a nicer place and lubricates social interactions. But the key is early education and consistency.
Thank you for reading! What other things are working for you in the manners department? Please share!
P.S. One unfortunate outcome of this training is that you will find that you will be unable to stop correcting anyone who fails to say, “please,” “thank you” and “no, thank you.” You will correct your child’s play date friends. You will correct your spouse. You will correct complete strangers. You have become…a Manners Nazi.
Here are some fun books about manners.
Best Books for Kids on Good Manners
Mealtime by Elizabeth Verdick, illustrated by Marieka Heinlen
This sweet board book teaches good table manners including washing hands, saying “thank you” and “please,” trying one bite of everything on your plate, and clearing your plate. It’s a nice way to reinforce what you are saying. [board book, ages 2 and up]
I will be giving this book away. Please leave a comment with a manners tip that you do with your child to win.
Sorry, Snail by Tracy Subisak
Ari was having a bad day and she took it out on a snail. Ms. Snail wasn’t having it and demanded an apology. Ari gave Ms. Snail an apology but it wasn’t a sincere one. Ms. Snail followed Ari to school with her snail friends and demanded a proper apology. Ari realized from the snail attack how bad Ms. Snail must have felt when she whispered mean things to her. Ari took time to create a beautiful chalk drawing and make a proper heart-felt apology. It was accepted and now they both have a new friend. [picture book, ages 3 and up]
D.W.’s Guide to Perfect Manners by Marc Brown
Great advice from D.W., Arthur’s little sister, on how to be perfect for one day! [picture book, ages 4 and up]
How Rude!: The Teenagers’ Guide to Good Manners, Proper Behavior, and Not Grossing People Out by Alex J. Packer
This etiquette book is perfect for tweens. It’s funny and covers all the basics. [nonfiction middle grade, ages 10 and up]
365 Manners Kids Should Know by Sheryl Eberly
Great advice and you can also make a game of it in her other book!
To examine any of the items listed, please click on image of item.
As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
Congrats to Erin who won Mealtime!
Food for the Future: Sustainable Farms Around the World
- Junior Library Guild Gold selection
- Selected as one of 100 Outstanding Picture Books of 2023 by dPICTUS and featured at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair
- Starred review from School Library Journal
BEST #OWNVOICES CHILDREN’S BOOKS: My Favorite Diversity Books for Kids Ages 1-12 is a book that I created to highlight books written by authors who share the same marginalized identity as the characters in their books.