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Amazing Grace: Tips For Teaching Child Manners

Child Manners Encourage Respect, Tolerance, Grace

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The holidays aren't the only time a kid should demonstrate good child manners--but special occasions, parties or family gatherings are when parents most want their children to be acting their best. For children to exhibit respect, tolerance, and social graces at these special times, however, means those important lessons must have already been learned. Teachers and senior adults agree that today's children demonstrate less child manners than in previous generations, which is not a compliment for today's youth.

Children who grow up without learning respect and tolerance, as well as how to act in social settings, are at greater risk of not being successful as adults in work settings and at social events. Parents, teachers and providers can team together to start teaching and reinforcing appropriate child manners now and in time to impress even Great-Grandpa at the next family dinner. How?

Here are some tips for teaching kids social graces.
  • R-E-S-P-E-C-T is Class Manners 101. Aretha Franklin sings about respect, and it is a fundamental skill needed for learning about child manners overall. Children must first be taught about respect--for their parents, for their friends and family, and for themselves. Here is where the issue of respect and manners gets sticky. The "old school" still believes in teaching kids the basic rules of never calling an adult by a first name, always responding with either "Yes Sir" or a "Yes, Mrs. Smith," and never, ever talking back or questioning an adult's directive. With that said, many individuals today believe some of the more traditional social rules to be too formal and too restrictive for today's kids. It is okay to agree to disagree with some of the recommended social rules. The key is to determine what rules are appropriate for child manners in your family or at your school or day care, and then to enforce them. These rules can be applied to sharing, asking to borrow a crayon, lining up in a hallway, and what actions cause a consequence and why. And, by doing so, adults teach respect along the way.


  • Appropriate mealtime child manners should be taught as soon as a child begins eating at the table. Amazingly enough, many kids have never been formally told that they should not have their elbows on the table or where to leave their napkin. Kids don't automatically know what is expect or now, what is considered right or wrong, and without adult guidance, some kids grow into adults who also don't know basic rules at mealtimes. Many a potential job offer has ended over lunch when a hiring individual observed poor manners of an applicant, and too many dates end without a connection because of boorish behavior at dinner. Why not get kids on the right track now? This does not mean all kids need to know fancy table arrangements and eat from fine china. However, holidays or special evenings out can be a great time to promote these practices. Start kids young with learning how to set the table appropriately, and then talk to them about general etiquette rules. One family has a weekly "family night out" at the dining room table, in which the better tableware and glassware are used and the table is set with candles and other arrangements. Each week, a different child in the family makes the plans. On some weeks, the meal may consist simply of hamburgers, but the family uses the special meal to teach manners, social graces, and according to the mother, "hopefully foster an enjoyment and respect of table conversation and of the dining experience in general." Some schools have programs such as cotillions for children, and some child care settings feature play meal settings or dress up teas or parties. All of these are stepping stones for teaching appropriate child manners.


  • Work on one social skill at a time. Don't overburden a child with too many lessons at once. Child care providers and teachers could work with parents to promote one child manner of the month, to be reinforced both during the day and at home. A general theme of respect, table manners, phone etiquette, addressing adults, social interaction with peers, etc., could be used and then scenarios and games coordinated to help teach the general message. Parents could help a kid's understanding of child manners by asking their child's care provider how mealtimes or share times are handled and then instilling those same processes at other times for consistency. Care providers will be glad you've asked and that you care enough to want to reinforce those teachings.


  • View more tips and ideas for values training on Page 2.
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