As much as parents would desire, courtesy and respect are not traits that are innately ingrained in a child. Fortunately, you can teach your little one to be courteous and polite from the time he or she is small. Raising courteous children will give them an edge in their social development. As your kids grow into adults, their courteousness will help them feel comfortable and confident in any social setting. They’ll also discover the many benefits that common courtesy has to offer in their personal and professional lives.
Definition of Courtesy
Most people would define courtesy as ‘polite behavior that reflects good manners and respect and kindness to others.’ Teaching your child courteous behavior is part of a parent’s responsibility. By starting when your kids are young (toddler age), your kids can turn courteousness into a lifelong habit.
Before you can teach courteous behavior to your kids, you need to have a good idea of what courtesy means to you and emulate that behavior. Your kids can then learn by copying your example. Here are some practical tips to help get you started.
- Whenever you use vocabulary to describe etiquette and polite behavior, make sure it is used in a positive light. Avoid being sarcastic or overbearing when teaching young kids manners or they may reject your efforts simply due to your presentation.
- Set the example by being courteous at home. If you treat your kids with kindness and respect, it’s much easier to expect them to do the same. Your example gives courtesy greater meaning in your kids’ lives.
- Talk about the benefits of courteous behavior with your kids so they can catch the vision for why it is important in their lives. A courteous child is easier to befriend than one with ill manners.
- Encourage your kids to practice good manners at every opportunity – at home, when out shopping, in the park, at school, etc. Teach them how to interact with others politely, answer the phone correctly, eat with good manners at the table, etc., so they will feel comfortable in any environment.
- Read about the importance of treating others with courtesy and respect. There are many books and videos for young children that help teach these concepts in a fun yet educational way.
In today’s high tech world of computers, tablets and smart phones, children learn quicker and become smarter at a younger age. These advances in their intellect, however, will do them little good if parents fail to teach them the social skills needed for getting along with others.
Courteous behavior, good manners and respect for others should be foundational traits of our kids’ education. Rather than look at courteous behavior as a by-product in your kids’ lives, you should make manners and polite behavior a focal point of their training.
Here are some concrete facts to help give you the vision for the importance of courtesy in your child’s life.
Courtesy is a Way of Life
Courteousness isn’t behavior that’s set aside for special occasions. According to etiquette-network.com founder Robin Thompson, “Behaving politely is a way of life, not just something you pull out when you’re at a wedding or fancy restaurant.” If your kids behave one way at home and a totally different way when attending important social gatherings, they will not benefit from the value that courteous behavior has to offer. Polite behavior should be automatic and a natural part of a child’s life, not something they turn on and off when it suits their fancy.
Politeness Enhances a Child’s Social Development
Children who are courteous and polite have an advantage socially over those who lack manners and respect for others. Courtesy helps kids develop friendships and gains the respect of their teachers and peers. By teaching your kids to be polite at a young age, you arm them with social skills that will benefit them for years to come.
Teaching Manners is a Challenge
Teaching kids good manners and courteous behavior is a challenge parents face on a daily basis. There’s no magic formula that ensures your children will react perfectly in any given situation. As a parent, you’ll need to decide what skills you want your kids to learn and begin introducing these skills a little at a time. A 2-year old, for example, can learn to greet others with a cheery hello; a 4-year old can be expected to eat with good manners at a restaurant and remember to say “please” and “thank you” when served.
Learning good etiquette takes time. Setting a good example for your kids is an important part of your child’s training. Your commitment to helping your kids learn how to be courteous will play an important role in their making progress in this area.
Consistency is Key
Being consistent and having common goals is important to teaching polite behavior. Parents will need to discuss what values are important to them and work together in teaching their kids these values. It can be very confusing for a child if one parent is lax in manners training while the other is strict. Your kids need a common behavior standard so they can work towards that goal.
What Constitutes Polite Behavior?
Although “polite behavior” may vary somewhat from culture to culture, there are good habits you can teach your kids that are common to most countries around the world. Here are but a few:
- Learning to say “please” and “thank you” at the appropriate times
- Learning good table manners and proper etiquette for the culture in which you live
- Learning to share and take turns
- Talking respectfully to others
- Apologizing for wrong or hurtful behavior
By the time kids reach toddler age, they become aware that their behavior – good or bad – has an effect on others. As they grow older, they can distinguish between right and wrong behavior and learn to choose that which is right. According to Emily Post, a well-known authority on good etiquette, “Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use.”
Are Table Manners Really That Important?
Parents who think that good table manners are outdated and fail to teach their children proper etiquette do them a great disservice. According to Ita Buttrose, author of A Guide to Australian Etiquette, “Good manners…are essential for civilized living.”
Even parents who believe in good table manners often fail to follow through in teaching etiquette to their children due to lack of time, vision or not adhering to regular meal schedules. In a busy household where both parents work, families may have a difficult time eating meals together. Even when they do, meals may be interrupted by arguing, television viewing, use of electronic devices, etc. Under these circumstances, it’s very easy for parents to overlook manners training.
Children may get by with poor table manners and lack of etiquette when they are young. As they grow, however, and integrate into the business world or society at large, they will find themselves at a disadvantage. Poor etiquette training can make young adults feel uncomfortable or lack confidence in important social settings such as business dinners, luncheons with clients or hosting dinner parties for company events. Learning etiquette as a child can help overcome these obstacles to help young professionals kick start their careers.
How can parents contribute to their kids’ upbringing in this area? Here are a few practical suggestions:
Eat as a Family
Children learn a great deal through observation. By eating together as a family and demonstrating good table manners, parents can encourage their kids to follow suit. Naomi Higgins, founder of Mother Crafting, a parenting consulting company, has this to say about teaching kids good table manners: “When a family sits together to eat, it not only helps them with manner guidelines and healthy eating habits, but it emulates a great sense of belonging and encourages good communication skills. The younger we encourage this (from toddler stage), the more likely it becomes second nature.”
Ban Electronic Devices from Mealtimes
Technology has invaded every aspect of our lives and mealtime is no exception. If you want to focus on manners training with your children, consider banning all electronic devices from the table. This emphasizes to your children the importance of spending time together as a family during meals.
Be a Role Model for Your Kids
Model the behavior you want your children to learn by displaying good manners yourself at every meal. Over time, your consistency in this area will help good manners become the norm in your home. By watching you, your kids can make good manners a lifelong habit.
Teach Manners as a Form of Respect
Good manners is a form of respecting others and showing them they are important to you. Your manners reflect your feelings towards others. If you truly care about your family, friends, teachers or work colleagues, you’ll make an effort to nurture the qualities that make them feel good and comfortable in your presence.