How To: Teach Manners to Kids

Best Books for Kids on Good Manners

My husband grew up in a military family so good manners was 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, 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 play dates, 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, 3) forget the “thank you” part of “no”. We really want the first group hanging 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 you 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- year-old!
  • By age 5, saying “please,” “thank you” and “no thank you” will become automatic. Yay! 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 plate and bring to the kitchen. (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! 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! 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 is a 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. If you click on any book, you can purchase at Thank you!

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. I will be giving this book away. Please leave a comment with a manners tip that you do with your child to win.

Here are three other great books on manners.

table manners for kids, papersalt

To view any book more closely at Amazon, please click on image of book.

Congrats to Erin who won Mealtime!

By Mia Wenjen, PragmaticMom


  1. T.H. Ritual

    I pass students in the hallways–juniors and seniors–who, when within appropriate striking distance for eye contact and a polite ‘hello’, find counting locker numbers with a contrived diversionary stare the most interesting thing in the Cosmos. It makes me feel like we’ve a long way to go.

    It makes me feel like the way is even longer when teachers and administrators do the same thing.

    • To T.H.,
      It does take training, I think, to get kids to make eye contact when they speak but once they get the hang of it, it’s a lesson that will serve them well in life.

    • To T.H.,
      It is hard to teach a child to make eye contact, I’ve noticed, but it is a lesson that will serve them well in life. Maybe no one taught the students, teachers and administrators who avoid eye contact in the hall way. In some ways, it’s more uncomfortable not to make eye contact with someone you know so that is too bad. On the other hand, when I started taking the subway in Boston, my friend from Woburn taught me to NEVER make eye contact for safety reasons. I wonder if that is a reason they don’t do that at school??

  2. Erin

    I love your posts. I try to teach manners but I have three boys and a husband who doesn’t rank manners high up on his to do list. However, I make sure my kids say thank you for everything. Thank you to teachers, thank you to coaches and thank you to every and any person that may provide even the slightest help or service. At least they are getting that.

    • To Erin,
      I think saying thank you is HUGE! And I think that it underscores the point that the point of thanking is appreciation for what these people do for you. Well done MOM!!!

    • To Erin,
      Thank you so much! It sounds like your kids have “thank you” down and that is wonderful because it also teaches them appreciation for what others do for them. Great job MOM!

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