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Teaching Manners

hamburger with mustard shaping in a smile face

Do you ever feel like you're surrounded by cavemen? Are your dinner conversations filled with noises you'd rather not think about? Can you finish your sentences without being interrupted?

Some have suggested that manners are one of the most important things parents can teach their children. Is teaching manners really worth the trouble?

What really matters?

For parents, children's bad manners can be annoying. For people outside the family circle, bad manners can be an absolute turnoff.   
Good manners are ultimately about respecting others, and therefore they open up possibilities for our kids. Children who can put respect into action by using good manners are often more sought after as playmates and are able to cope more effectively in an adult world.   
A school teacher said it this way, "Teaching your child basic politeness skills will endear them to others" (Walker).

Ultimately you'll decide which manners are important enough to encourage. Here's a list of 10 basic possibilities:

  1. Waiting turns and not interrupting.
  2. No name calling.
  3. Appropriate greetings when visitors arrive.
  4. "Please" and "thank you."
  5. Cleaning up after yourself.
  6. Good sportsmanship.
  7. Taking compliments courteously.
  8. Opening doors for others.
  9. Receiving and giving gifts.
  10. Respecting differences.

How to do it.

Focus on the positive. If you notice a child thanking you, thank her right away: "I love hearing you say thanks. It makes me happy, and it makes me want to help you even more."   
Teach. BYU researchers remind us that we are always teaching our children. Three items to keep in mind are:   
1) Our actions matter more than our words. "Tell her thanks will ring hollow if we ourselves don't thank others.   
2) We must treat children with respect. Treating them with good manners will teach them how to do the same for others.   
3) Learning occurs best under pleasant circumstances. Ever tried to force an apology from a child? The best time for the"lesson" is usually not in the heat of the moment (Marchant and Young 12).

What to ignore.

Dr. Latham suggests ignoring what you can as you parent. "As parents, we are inclined to work ourselves into a tizzy over behaviors that just aren't that significant...   
"Be slow to pay attention to behaviors which are basically age-typical and which left alone extinguish because of lack of attention" (Latham 51).   
There you have it: oooh and ahhh over Nathan's use of his napkin at dinner and try to ignore his endless slurping of his soup.

Maybe you've been lucky enough to hear your child echo something you say almost verbatim (or should that be "unlucky enough"?). "Remember that children learn best by example. Thanking them for the things they do will go a long way in emphasizing the importance of it" (Walker). Thank, thank, thank your children for their good efforts with manners.

family preparing a dinner table

Mrs. Walker, a first grade teacher wrote, "Teaching your child basic politeness skills will endear them to others" (Walker).

Children receive natural rewards when they are well mannered: they are preferred as playmates, and adults want to be around them more.

But one of the best reasons to teach children manners is that manners are a great way to show respect to others.


Estes, Pat. "Random Sampler," Ensign, Feb 1984, 58-60.   
Latham, Glenn I. The Power of Positive Parenting. Logan, UT: P&T Ink, 2006.   
Marchant, M. & Young, R. (2005). 3 B's of effective parenting: Be proactive, be positive, and be consistent. Marriage and Families, (Winter), 18-25.   
Walker, Ardith. "What First Grade Teachers Wish Parents Would Teach Their Kids." Unpublished article.