The Must-Have Manners…

Forget standing when women enter the room or calling all men “sir”. Modern western society would suggest that is behaviour from a forgotten time.  But what are the modern manners every child should have?

When I was thinking about this post I returned to the memory of my father answering the telephone…the sort which was attached to a  wall and was shared among all members of the family.
“Is Louise there?” would ask the tentative teenage male voice.  “Yes” was the response of my father as he put the telephone handset back into its cradle.

Oh, the humiliation!  Whoever  the new “boyfriend” of the moment was, he had not asked the correct, and polite by my father’s standards, question: “Good evening…may I speak with Louise please”.   Then the answer would have been, perhaps:  “No, we are in the middle of dinner.  Why don’t you call back in half an hour”.  And then I would have to suffer through another half hour of polite family conversation over dinner wondering, waiting and writhing in my dining chair until the phone rang again.  And when it did, I would politely ask to leave the table as I bolted to the telephone and hopefully some privacy…even for a few minutes. 

How many of you remember this scenario?

These days the level of etiquette with regard to the telephone, and parents, is more likely to be…”Mum/Dad, I’m on the phone!”…and that is likely to be the smartphone that the parents pay for.
So, how have these changed behaviours, well accepted and condoned by most modern and certainly western societies, evolved?

For the last few decades we have emphasised the importance of good self-esteem and encouraged children to express themselves freely.  For their own safety, children, who would once have been taught to always defer to adults, have been encouraged to assess adults’ requests critically and refuse if they are uncomfortable.  We mostly live in crowded urban environments with a dog-eat-dog mentality. Adults push in front to get on the bus, shout loudly into their mobile phones and act like it is a sign of weakness to acquiesce to merging traffic.

But I see manners as the glue which helps us to communicate with respect and consideration with everyone with whom we come in contact.  People regularly ask me why manners are relevant or important, not only for children but in business and other areas.  I would suggest that in order to live in a world comfortably with other people and to interact with them appropriately, you need good guidelines.

Pukapuka Island in the Northern Cook Islands...and a granddaughter with her grandparents..
 I was reminded about the respect of the generations on this tiny, remote island in 2011 (photo the author)

In every culture one of the first things children is taught are manners.  I believe that children should appreciate both modern and traditional codes of behaviour so that 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 experiences and expectations.

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 should also 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.

Parents should teach table manners by sitting down with their children, showing them not only how to hold a knife and fork, or chopsticks, or whatever other implements are appropriate for the family dining experience, but how to make conversation.  It doesn’t  have to be a drama, making meal times unpleasant.  It should be a natural experience for the family.

The other manners children benefit from include listening skills, an ability to wait, winning and losing skills and understanding and respecting personal space.

My own observances have been that children are already quite aware and concerned about those around them.   More than we tend to think.  If adults understand this, it provides a foundation on which to build strong guidelines.

But as a final word, I would say that the last thing good manners should be is artificial.  I have been saddened by the number of young people who develop at an early age the pretention of their parents…it is as damaging as having no manners at all…

The Golden Rules:

Remember the Magic Words:  Please, thank you, sorry, excuse me.
Be Polite on the Phone:  Introduce yourself,  be considerate with your voice and mobile phone calls
Eat Nicely at the Table:  Be considerate with those joining you at the table
Greet People Properly: Look at people, answer politely, shake hands,  introduce others
Show Sportsmanship: Play hard but remember to be gracious whether with a win or a loss
Don’t Interrupt:  Everyone’s opinion matters, even if you do not agree with it
Respect you Elders: Show consideration for anyone who has more knowledge of life than you
Patience is a Virtue:  Wait for people to leave the bus, elevator, train…it’s only a couple of seconds
Clean up after Yourself:  It’s not that difficult…but it makes a huge difference
Respect Differences:  Differences don’t mean difficulties …respecting them helps understanding


  1. What a great set of golden rules and I hope that I abide by all of them where possible. Since moving to France, (in the country), I find the children here are very much more polite than the children generally are in the UK. Out cycling today, a teenager was coming the other way on his bike, as he passed I got the familiar 'bonjour' called over to me. I have never had a hello happen in any other country from a child, occasionally the odd adult cyclist will respond if I say hello or wave first. Diane

  2. Diane, I so agree with you...the European youngsters are certainly more polite than their Anglo/Australian counterparts; I particularly notice it in France...when I am out walking I usually find eye contact as well as a verbal greeting...thanks for dropping by! Louise

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