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What is the best way to teach children manners. My children are 5 and 7 (boy and girl) and I would like them to be more polite to people and at the dinner table.


Barbara Gilmour Replied: I think it is great that you have an interest in helping your children improve their social skills. Most etiquette experts agree that there has been a decline in the popularity of teaching children manners and social skills over the last generation or two. This has resulted in a broad opinion nation-wide, that we are a rude society, and that much of the bullying and violence so prevalent today can be traced back to the lack of this training. Though we have had character education for many years, we still have increasing incidences of bullying. Recent research is supporting "social competence" training to help correct this situation. (We have cited some of this research on the Published Articles page of our website.) So you are definitely on the right track here.

Let's look at how manners and social skills training help (or) hinder a child. In our own pilot studies and research, we have seen when a child goes to school or is in a situation where he/she has been trained how to act properly, that child goes into the situation with confidence, doesn't have to worry about how to act, instinctively does the right thing, and feels good about doing it right. This child tends to be happier, have more friends, will likely be a leader, and be more able to reject bullying and being bullied. Conversely, when a child who has had no social skills training enters the same situations, he/she is often unsure of what to do, fearful of doing the wrong thing, or of being embarrassed, and often acts out to hide their insecurity. This child often doesn't have as many friends, hangs back rather than participates, and often bullies to cover up feelings of not fitting in.

Teaching your 5 and 7 year-old children manners is not going to be an overnight process. I recommend starting with a few points and working on those until they become good habits. I would take one point about table manners, or dining skills to start and work on that. And at the same time work on another skill, unrelated to dining. Do one skill in each area a week. Role-playing is fun for kids this age, so let them have fun with the training. You might even select a table setting skill and start with that, then add a table manners skill. They are different. There are more tips on my blog which you can access below, including lists of polite and rude table manners skills. Have them create a table manners chore chart to let them see positive progress.

When most people hear the word "manners" they immediately think table manners. But manners and social skills are about treating others with kindness and respect in all situations. Other skills you might want to work on include use of the Magic Words, introducing, answering the phone properly, and a host of other topics. Work first on the ones that annoy you the most.

I like to use the following four tips for training children in manners and social skills:
1. Training is introducing the new skill
2. Correcting is repeating and modeling the skill
3. Disciplining is gently correcting and requiring the skill be used
4. Encouraging is rewarding the good behavior with lavish praise

A little training, as they are ready for it, will give your kids the confidence you want them to have. You will see that it was worth it when someone comments on how polite your children are.
Posted On 2010-07-28 20:00:18
Kraig Kidd Replied: I'm going to recommend to you a parenting philosophy called "Redirecting Children's Behavior" designed by Kathryn Kvols - Founder of the International Network of Children and Families. This parenting technique takes into consideration parenting our children with the end state in mind, not just what we want them to achieve right now. It also gives some very practical tools to use in communicating expectations with our children. Learning to do things simply because we are told to sends us a very different message about how to live life than teaching us values and principles in life that help us develop and maintain and integrity about who we are, which I see you asking for in your question. You're going to love it.
Posted On 2010-06-21 23:37:44
Peter Hanfileti, MD Replied: The first thing I would make sure you do is to define what you mean by good manners. Don't assume your kids automatically know what it means in practical everyday terms. Since they are old enough to understand your verbal instructions, tell them or write down the specifics of what you want and expect from them. Secondly, you must model for them the behavior you are wanting to encourage. In other words, they must see, witness, and experience you as well as other family members actively showing good manners in action. Third, I would say as with anything, practice makes perfect, or at least significant improvement. Give them plenty of opportunities to practice in many different situations. Eating at home, eating out, visiting grandparents or friends, going to the store, etc. These are all places where they should gain experience and continue to practice honing their skills. My 4th point is that consequences and choices have to be mixed in here, as it is unlikely they will take to this new way of being right away. Stick to the consequences which you have decided will immediately follow when they are impolite or behaving inappropriately, like leaving the store or restaurant, or ending dinnertime prematurely, or losing the ability to do some activity if (and when) the rules you have put into place are broken. This is just part of the learning process and should be expected. This should be framed and spoken about as learning in progress, not as failure. Finally, my last comment extrapolates from your question the fact that there may be underlying reasons your two kids are acting out more than you would like. I recommend exploring the ways they can each assert their own independence. What I have found is that many times kids have made the mistaken assumption that to get attention, they must engage in conflict with their sibling and make a lot of noise and commotion. Of course, this is not the only way to get attention, but they may not fully realize that yet. Take stock of where each child is in their development and be sure to include plenty of outlets for their own individual expression, without the other sibling even needing to be present. The increased energy and attention they focus on their own unique individual strengths will often calm down or diminish the energy they are expending to assert themselves in negative or unacceptable ways. I hope my suggestions are helpful to you. If you can find someone in your local area to work through these issues with you, that would be best. Have confidence that your kids will continue to learn and grow with your help and encouragement.
Posted On 2009-07-27 17:49:17
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