I?ve read enough of Amy Vanderbilt to know that children should be taught to say "hello," "please," "thank you," "excuse me" and "I?m sorry."
They should show respect for older people and not interrupt conversations. Basic good breeding.
But one day last week, when my son didn?t acknowledge my sweet 70-year-old friend at the kitchen table, I realized that my child needed to learn more than just the mechanics of good manners, he needed to understand the reasons for good manners.
Educators tell us that our children?s early elementary years offer the perfect climate for politeness training. Children this age are extremely sensitive and are developing the very traits that can translate into good manners: curiosity, friendliness and the ability to imitate others.
So take advantage of this teachable stage to help your child develop a real sense of kindness and respect toward others. A child this age can understand that manners are less about how she feels and more about what others feel. Talk to her about the Golden Rule?"Do to others as you would have them do to you" (Luke:6:31)?explaining that God wants us to always treat others with consideration and courtesy.
Rather than tackling a list of do?s and don?ts with your child, experiment with different ways to teach manners, like role-playing. Have your son put on Dad?s shoes and tie and pretend to be someone else. After you?ve shown him how to say hello and shake hands, change roles. Next time, practice starting a conversation by asking a question about a favorite subject or sport.
Other kids might benefit more from an analytical look at manners. Sit down with your child and ask him how he feels when he asks a question and someone answers him nicely. What does it feel like to be ignored? Once he realizes that just as he likes a polite response to his questions, adults appreciate it when he takes the time to talk to them and answer their questions. And that?s true even if 70-year-old Mrs. Smith asks him about soccer practice every time she sees him.
When you teach manners to your children, you?re giving them skills that will last a lifetime. Knowing how to behave properly builds self-confidence that will serve your child well as she grows into adulthood.
Now instead of brooding when one of my boys misses his manners cue, we approach manners with a new sense of purpose: to make people smile.
Writer, teacher, mother of four
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