If you have been thinking about teaching manners to your children, then you have probably already noticed that there is a world of difference between a polite, well-mannered child and a child who hasn’t been taught basic courtesy.
Well-mannered children are not just born, and manners are not an inherited trait. A mannerly child, or adult for that matter, has been taught, and corrected, and corrected again. Manners go against human nature. They are about preferring others before yourself.
Manners are a habit that takes consistency and dedication, and weeks and months of practice. But the work is well worth it!
My children are not perfect, far from it, and we still work on manners, even with the older ones, every day. But I have found four different ways to teach and reinforce good manners, and I’m enjoying the fruit of this work now.
Teaching Manners–1. Habit of the Week
When we were first starting out, I decided that being reactive about manners was the wrong approach. What I mean about being reactive is responding with a manners reminder after the offense has already occurred. It just doesn’t work.
If you want your children to truly internalize good manners, the teaching has to happen first, and then you have to give your child a lot of practice.
It’s easiest for the child if you focus on one new habit per week. The obvious place to begin is with “please”.
So instead of constantly reminding/nagging your child to say please, start off at the breakfast table with a discussion. Talk about when “please” should be used, how it should be said (with a good attitude!), what you can expect when you use “please”, what you can expect when you don’t use “please”, etc.
Teaching Manners–2. Practice, Practice, Practice
If you want your children to truly internalize the manners habits that you are teaching them, you are going to have to practice with them. As I mentioned above, reacting is not practicing. Proactively teaching manners means reminding them of the habit, and then giving them the opportunity to practice.
Practicing means setting up daily scenarios. It’s reminding them BEFORE they forget.
So, if you are trying to teach your children to say “Please” after you follow step 1, you will say “And now we will practice. Watch how I do this. Johnny, would you PLEASE pass me that napkin?” Johnny passes the napkin, say thank you, and then instruct Johnny to ask his sister for an item nearby and to do it using please.
Continue this exercise for a minute or two (it will get old quickly unless you are teaching very young children).
Now, go about your day for a bit. But look for another opportunity to be proactive. If you know that it is getting close to snack time, or lunch time, remind the children to say “please” when asking for their food, etc.
If your child should ask you for something without saying please, don’t ask them “what do you say?”. Just look at them with eyebrows raised. Older children may catch on quickly and ask again with a “please”. But younger children may need a memory jogger.
But you aren’t just going to give it to them, make them think about it. Instead of asking “what do you say?”, instead, say something along the lines of “I seem to remember that we had a discussion this morning about something…….now what was it………” and wait for them to remember.
If you are dealing with a very young child, then you will need to be very patient with them, you may have to go ahead and just remind them to say “please”, but when they do it on their own, make sure to give a lot of praise and hugs.
Just remember to do your best to bring it up the weekly manners habit throughout the day, get in front of it in situations where you know they will be asking you for something, and play up the praise when you hear it happening naturally.
Teaching Manners–3. Random Rewards
This is a fun way to reinforce the children’s efforts. Give random rewards when you hear a natural “please”, or whatever other manners habit you are working on. Do NOT reward every time you hear it, it must be random or it won’t be nearly as effective.
In my home, chocolate chips are currency. Whenever I want to randomly reward behavior (depending on the size of the reward) I will go grab 1-5 chocolate chips from the jar. It’s cheap and delicious, and will motivate your child to keep trying!
Teaching Manners–4. Charge a Fine
This last method is only used for bad manners which are offensive to me and other people. If I had a child who struggled with bad language, I would fine him (I’m sure you’ve heard of the swear jar? It’s not a new concept).
In my home, my children who are old enough to control it are fined for burping and passing gas in front of others, they are also fined for bathroom humor. The fine is $1 and they have to hand it over when they are paid each week.
It works really well. I’ve made around $50 in the last six months, and there has been a considerable drop in these bad habits. My husband says it’s not fair because I feed the children so many beans, fruits, and vegetables. I think he’s just jealous because I don’t share the money with him.
Teaching manners is not difficult, you just have to firmly resolve that your children will be more mannerly, and then take action. You cannot expect perfection from them, but you can raise the bar for acceptable behavior.
Doors will open for your well-mannered children one day that may have otherwise remained closed if they had not become more courteous. Good manners are becoming so rare that they stand out. Help your children stand out for good reasons!