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10 Manners Parents Should Be Teaching Their Kids But Aren't
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We parents know we should teach our kids to say "please" and "thank you," but that's just the beginning of being polite. There are literally hundreds more manners parents should be showing their kids—as many as one for every day of the year, in fact, according to Sheryl Eberly, author of "365 Manners Kids Should Know: Games, Activities, and Other Fun Ways to Help Children and Teens Learn Etiquette."
"Learning good manners will help your child act toward others with respect and take into account their feelings," Eberly says. "Your child will also gain the confidence that comes from knowing the proper thing to do."
Not only are they just the right way to act, good manners will set children up for a lifetime of success with family, friends and coworkers. There are myriad situations where consideration counts but is sometimes forgotten, Eberly says, but it's not too late to make your kid the politest on the block. Check out her advice on how and why to start teaching your kids these 10 key manners today.
1. Stand to show respect.
It wasn't that long ago that men always stood when a woman got up from the table, but our more casual society has made standing to show respect less and less common—but it's still good manners.
"There are some things that just cause your child to stand out as being above average in good behavior, and standing is one of those," Eberly says. "Whether it's at a public ceremony with the national anthem, at church, or when guests are leaving your house, you stand up. You stand up to say 'goodbye.' Don't just hang out on the couch and yell across the room, 'See you later!'"
To teach kids to do this, use a prompt-and-praise technique, Eberly suggests.
"Prompt them that you expect them to stand with adults and here is going to be the example for when that will happen," she says. "Then praise them later or thank them in the car on the way home after you've observed them doing so."
2. Be aware of others' physical space in public.
When you see a gaggle of tweens headed toward you on the sidewalk, how often do you find yourself stepping off into the grass because they breeze past, taking up the whole walkway without noticing there's no room for you?
"Kids need to be aware of who is around them and how their behavior affects them," says Eberly. "This falls into public manners. Of course, there are laws that tell us what we can and cannot do in public, but we also need to be good citizens. When you're walking on the sidewalk or at the mall, and someone is coming towards you, you move to the right and you make space for them."
To teach kids to be aware of others physically in public, Eberly suggests using role playing.
"Act out how you move when someone is approaching you on the sidewalk, or how you get to the middle seat in the auditorium without bothering people and stepping on their toes," she says.
3. Show respect for your elders.
It's hard for someone who has been on the planet only a decade to understand it, but adults have earned respect just by living a long time. Experience leads to wisdom, and wisdom should be respected.
"Children should show respect in deference for their parents, grandparents or their school teacher or other public person," Eberly says. "One of the things we always did at family gatherings to reinforce this was to ask Grandma and Grandpa to serve themselves first from the buffet. That's a way of showing deference to age. Kids shouldn't get to dash first to the buffet line just because they are starving."
To teach behaviors like these, Eberly likes to use an I Spy Chart with the children's names on it to mark down when she notices them using proper manners.
"We hung one in our mud room, and when I 'spied' the kids having good manners, I would write it by their name," she says. "They would go by and see, 'Oh, Mom noticed that I opened the door for my school teacher.' I wouldn't even verbalize it to them, but I just made a little public notice of it on the chart."
4. Acknowledge others entering and exiting your home—including Mom and Dad.
Are you embarrassed when people come over to visit and your kid barely looks up from what he's doing to grunt? You should be.
"It's important to acknowledge people whether they are your family members or whether they are visitors," Eberly says. "Kids should greet guests that come to the house. Maybe they shake hands, maybe they give a hug, and then they go back to their playtime if it's really a gathering for adults."
Eberly suggests following the lead of a mom who has her children tell her later what color guests' eyes are.
"It's a way of having them focused on that person, not focused on themselves," she says. "If your child tends to be shy, it can help them to have something for them to focus on other than their own shyness as they greet people."
The same proper greetings and goodbyes should be given to parents, too.
"Children don't like to be nagged about chores the minute they come in from school, so children should put themselves in the shoes of their parents and say, 'Wow, I know I like Mom to say "hello" to me, but I don't want her to nag me, so I'll say "hello" when she gets home but then give her some time to just come in to the house and not be bombarded by requests or noise,'" Eberly says. "Kids should make the home a welcoming place when the parent enters."
5. Learn and remember people's names.
How many times has your child proudly announced she made a new friend, but when you ask her what her friend's name is, she can't remember?
"People love to hear their name used, and they want it pronounced correctly," Eberly says, "so one of the things that we practice with our own children is ways to remember a name. You can do something rhyming with it to remind your child. So, 'Rose has freckles on her nose,' or some kind of mnemonic device," she says. "When they learn a name, remind your child to use it right away and say, 'Nice to meet you, Emily.' Using the name as much as they can helps them remember it."
6. Kids shouldn't be the center of attention all the time.
Once upon a time, children were expected to be seen and not heard. Now, it seems they are often the center of attention at most social gatherings. Sure, they're cute for a while, but sometimes it becomes annoying.
"It is really important for children not to take too much of the limelight," Eberly says. "I think prompting them about that and helping them to be aware of it, as well as [knowing how to] focus conversations on others, too. As a parent, don't draw constant attention to your child and ask them to perform somehow. You know, 'You were so funny when you did that, do that for Uncle John!' You can give them prompts about what's appropriate and what isn't."
To help her kids learn what was appropriate, Eberly did learning outings.
"We would book a table at a nice restaurant to talk about what was going to be expected at an upcoming special event and the rules that were going to govern it," she says.
7. Change the subject politely.
Yes, sometimes other people talk about really boring things, but knowing how to deal with it politely is a skill that will serve kids well for the rest of their lives.
"There are so many ways to think about conversation and how to respect other people in conversation," Eberly says. "For one thing, it's okay to change the subject because you should think of conversation as a tennis game. The ball goes back and forth, so you say something, the other person says something, maybe you ask a question, maybe they ask you a question, and you spend a bit of time on the topic that they introduce. You don't just jump from what they are talking about to a topic of your own."
"But there is a time to change a subject, and it's after you've spent a bit of time on the subject the other person has brought up," Eberly notes. "It can be good to say something in closing about their topic and then interrupt yourself when you are talking to change the subject. For example, you could say, 'Well, I'm glad you enjoy that movie. I hope I get to see it. Speaking of entertainment, did I tell you about the trip I took?'"
8. Don't point or stare at people.
Did your parents tell you that when you point at someone, there are three fingers pointing back at yourself? Pass that little nugget along to your children, too.
"We teach that you don't stand too close to a person when you're talking with them; you give them some physical space, but I think our children need to be aware of other people's emotional space, too," Eberly says. "You don't stare at someone. You don't point unless you're giving directions. Tell kids to think about how would they feel if someone was staring or pointing at them."
"One of the overarching principles I like to follow with good manners is the Golden Rule, so treat other people the way you would want to be treated," Eberly says. "Then take it a step further and use the Platinum Rule, which is treat other people the way they would want to be treated. That's understanding that we don't all have the same experiences, so how do I put myself in their shoes and figure out what would make them feel respected?"
9. Be considerate and kind to people with disabilities.
Children are naturally curious about everything in the world, and seeing someone with a disability can cause them to stare to try to understand or ask questions loudly, which might be embarrassing. If that happens, you can just apologize and use it as a signal that you should talk to your child about it later.
"There is a lot to learn here," Eberly says. "As with any manners, it's good to think ahead about, 'What is a good approach to this?' One thing is to put yourself in that other person's position and imagine what their life is like. You can even practice it by blindfolding yourself for an hour or putting in earplugs for an evening and seeing how your life changes. You can go online and read about how people like to be treated, because these things aren't really intuitive—and then remember that they are just like you; they want friendship. They are people first."
10. Be a good guest.
While you've probably had many, many conversations about helping to pick up toys and games before leaving a playdate and how to not throw a fit when it's time to leave a friend's house, there's more to being a good guest than just that.
"Teach them to fit in with your host's household schedule and habits," Eberly says. "If they don't eat in the family room in front of the TV, don't make a big deal of that. Also, kids should learn to express preferences. Children can be asked, 'What would you like to drink?' and they might say, 'I don't care' or 'Whatever.' But actually it makes it easier for a host when a guest expresses a preference, so, 'I'd like lemonade, please.'"
Kids should also be taught to greet adults when arriving for a playdate.
"Don't just arrive at your friends' house and dash past their parents and head off to do whatever you're going to do," Eberly says. "Kids should say, 'Hello, Mrs. Smith.' Also, thank them for inviting you and let them know that you're excited to join them for a meal or swimming in their pool or that you're happy to be there. Verbally giving adults or your friend affirmation is a good thing."