Children and the Must-Have Manners

Forget standing when women enter the room or calling all men ‘sir’- that’s behaviour from a forgotten time.  But what are the modern manners every child should have?

The past century, particularly since WWII, has seen Western society move away from the highly stratified and rule-ridden days of the past.  Rules of etiquette which previously defined social status were largely abandoned and are now often regarded as unnecessary, old-fashioned or even snobbish.  We have increasingly embraced the notion of the free-thinking individual, unfettered by rules.  We emphasise the importance of good self-esteem and encourage children to express themselves freely.  We try to be open-minded and non-judgemental about different cultures and backgrounds.
We mostly live in crowded urban environments.  Adults push in front of you to get on the bus, shout loudly into their mobile phones and act like it is a sign of weakness to let you into merging traffic.

In going through my files, I recently found a newspaper interview I had given to the West Australian in which I commented that  “I see manners as the glue that helps us interact with respect and consideration with everyone with whom we come into contact.  A lot of people ask me why manners are relevant or important – not just for children but in business and other areas. I say that to live in a world with other people and to interact with them appropriately you need guidelines. In every culture, all over the world, one of the first things children are taught is manners.”

But in this day and age many parents find it difficult to know which rules children should observe and which are no longer important.  I believe that children should appreciate both modern and more traditional codes of behaviour so they know how to interact successfully with people from a range of backgrounds and ages.  Parents, as well as grandparents, have a crucial role to play in teaching children about different social expectations.

As I mentioned in the interview “Children should learn the difference between the way they might talk to their peers and the way they speak with their grandparents…they must show consideration for older people.  The "oldies" are not wrong and the child should learn respect for different styles of manners and the different forms of communication they should use.”

And additionally I mentioned that “Having an understanding of manners really does give children confidence in many situations.  I really believe that social skills should be taught in schools”.

A quick scan of the internet reveals many articles with general and specific advice on the subject of manners. Many writers suggest that rather than thinking of manners as a series of black and white rules, they should be considered a “philosophy of respect”. Experts concur that the best way to teach children good manners is by example.  Parents who are courteous and respectful of each other and their children have the best chance of producing offspring who are also courteous.  Parents are also advised to speak to children ahead of time about the behaviour that is expected in new situations and to praise good manners in terms of the effect it has on others.

Jonathan Sargeant, assist professor in education at Bond University in Queensland, said parents had to grasp every opportunity to teach manners. He suggested that the manners children benefited from being taught included listening skills, an ability to wait, winning and losing skills and respecting personal space.

I suggested in the article that saying please and thank you were “totally non-negotiable”.  I also commented that I felt table manners were also very important, mentioning that “I have young people who don’t know what to do with cutlery in a restaurant.  It is very damaging for their confidence.” I firmly believe that parents should teach table manners by sitting down with their children, showing them not only how to hold a knife and fork but how to make conversation at the table.

Dr Sargeant  commented  that parents should be able to work with the children’s own natural inclinations. He said “My own research on young children has shown that kids are already quite aware and concerned about those around them.  More than we tend to think.  If adults understand this, it provides something great to build on.”

My final point in the interview was that the last thing good manners should be was artificial.  If the whole point was to make people feel comfortable then if children are pretentious about their manners, it is as damaging as having no manners at all.

And so my Essential Modern Manners for Children and Young Adults…and Everyone Actually…

Remember the Magic Words:  please, thank you and excuse me.
           Be Polite on the Telephone
           Eat Nicely at the Table
      Greet People Properly
    Wait your Turn and Don’t Interrupt
     Respect your Elders
     Patience is a Virtue 
    Clean up after Yourself
      Show Sportsmanship
       And last but not least….Respect Differences