Building Good Manners for Children at Home

How do you teach good manners for children so they are polite and and thankful? The answers are simpler than one might imagine.

First, and most important, the parents should model the desired behavior at home. This may sound like common sense, but it cannot be emphasized enough how much children take on the behavior they see from their parents. Start with the basics. Say "please" and "thank you" throughout the day. Say it to the children. Say it to your spouse. Make sure the children hear you use these words several times all throughout the day. Encourage them to use the words, too. Everyone feels good when they are thanked, even for small things like passing the salt.

Second, teach kids the difference between asking and telling. For instance, "Please pass the salt" versus "Give me the salt" is obvious. But, encourage the kids to use the phrases "May I have" and "Could you please" in place of "I want…", "I'll take…", and "Give me…" and you've really changed the way they relate to each other, and you. The habit will stick when they are out of the house, too.

It may take a while. These changes don't happen overnight, particularly if they are new to a family's norms. But gentle (and repeated) correcting and asking them to restate their requests will reap worthwhile results.

If your kid says "Give me some milk," reply, "May I have some milk please?" Wait for the child to repeat your words, and then respond appropriately. Your reply could also be, "How do you ask?" and allow the child to rephrase his request. Do not yell, and be sure to be calm. Remember, they are watching, and they will copy your every response.

Practice rephrasing a request, first saying it the non-mannerly way, and then restating it using good manners. The kids will have fun, your point will be made, and they'll get the message.

Finally, be mindful of the way you talk to your kids. Sure, you are the parent, and you the one in charge. But kids will be happier to follow directions if they are spoken to using the same manners you wish to hear from them. Remember the magic words, including not only "please" and "thank you," but also "may I" and "would it be okay if…" At the very least, teach them that everything sounds better with "please" attached.

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