Friday, May 28, 2010

Children and Manners: How early is too early...?

An article recently in The West Australian newspaper “Schools step in to teach social skills” is a pertinent reminder that the teaching of manners, while supported and encouraged by schools, should begin in the home. Having a knowledge of what to do, and when to do it, is a great confidence builder for children and young adults.

The saying “children should be seen and not heard” still resonates in the memory of many of us but to the children of the 21st century the expression has no relevance. Children today are encouraged to be forthright and confident in their attitude and often the concepts of “manners” and “respect for your elders” are ignored.

I feel that from their very earliest years our children should be taught to respect their elders. They should be encouraged to stand up when an adult enters a room and they should make confident eye contact when they are introduced. So often, if sprawled out in front of the TV, or caught up in a computer game, a quick glance over the shoulder and a “hi” is all that is offered. They often feel that to be more formal could lead, particularly in front of their friends, to accusations of being a “nerd” or worse. And for this reason some parents are loathe to correct their children.

The use of people’s names in introductions and conversations is not encouraged as much now as it once was. Largely, I think, because the use of surnames rather than first names with adults has become a minefield of possible faux pas. There is no standard as to how our children should introduce and be introduced. Some adults prefer to be addressed by their first names and for children whose parents have insisted that they always use Mr and Mrs this can be very confusing. I still advise that we should never presume to use first names until we are invited to do so.

A level of courtesy should also be applied when children are using the telephone. There is nothing worse than calling a friend, only to have their young son or daughter answer, then yell :”Mum...” without covering the receiver. From their earliest use of the telephone, both mobile and landline, they should be taught that manners are important.

I am often asked when table manners for children should be introduced. When they are very little, just getting them to eat can be a challenge, let alone requiring them to do it in a manner which is socially acceptable. But words of encouragement, from an early age, help children to understand that there are standards which should be observed at the table and we adults must be aware that the easiest way for them to learn is to emulate those around them.

In our busy lives, family dining is becoming less and less common. Grabbing a quick bite in front of the television frequently replaces the nightly family get together, making it difficult for children to learn appropriate table manners. When young people then visit restaurants the whole episode can degenerate into a nerve-racking experience for all concerned.
The other aspect of family dining which is so important is the encouragement of general conversation. Proper conversation is an art and one which is only acquired through experience. It is very easy to chat with peers but many children feel daunted when confronted with adults who question them and assume that conversation, rather than monosyllabic answers, will follow.

One of the most pleasant ways to teach our children good manners is by encouraging them in birthday party etiquette. It is a good way to advise them about the importance of the RSVP. And at the party, it is important to remind the birthday girl or boy to introduce friends or family members who are unknown to the other guests and ensure that everyone feels welcome. Children should be encouraged to write thank you’s for their gifts, or send an email, not necessarily to their friends but certainly to elderly relatives who cherish such courtesy.

So, given that good manners are the building blocks of appropriate communication skills, let’s encourage our children in the art of courtesy and caring for the needs of others.
And what is the right age to start teaching these life-long skills?....from the time that our children can understand the difference between right and wrong, “yes” and “no” and “please” and “thankyou”.

And...a interesting piece I have been given recently about table manners with children.(


  1. I couldn't agree more. Great article.

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  3. Thanks Paul...we don't always get it right as parents, but at least we can try and give our children a good start.