Why do manners matter? Are they more than social conformity? What am I really teaching my child?

I’m going to suggest it’s creating a lifestyle of kindness.

A month or so ago a child arrived at preschool, running down the hallway, completely focused on getting to her classroom and greeting her teacher and peers. I saw her arriving and stepped out of my office to greet her. “Good morning Sophie!” Completely focused on her destination and unaware of my greeting, she continued down the hallway. Her father stopped her and said “Sophie, Mrs. Bracy was talking to you, what do you say?” She stopped, looking distracted, turned around and said “Umm…. Please??” This interaction made me smile as I wondered how many times a day do we say to children “What do you say?” and statistically speaking she made a good guess at the expected response!

However, teaching and instilling verbal cues and responses are only one small part of teaching manners. While the social norms of manners and the specifics of the language or behavioral expectations change over generations, and by culture, the basic principles remain the same. It is important that we give our children tools that in turn create pathways to positive relationships and connection. This is true for all interactions that they encounter.

Manners are more than set of expected behaviors. It’s about thinking of others. It’s about respect. It’s about healthy interactions. It’s about valuing others. It’s about kindness. It’s about empathy. It’s about gratitude. These principles are important for our children to learn and they need practice to learn how to express them. Manners are a practical and tangible way of expressing these values.

Respect
We teach our children good manners when we teach them to respect the person in front of them. We must model this too in all our interactions. We are all made in God’s image and deserve respect. When I value another person’s presence, listen to what they have to say, ask questions about them I make them feel important because I am giving them my attention, I show respect. When I look at somebody in the eye and enunciate clearly, I am showing respect. For some children this is hard. If direct eye contact is challenging for your child encourage them to look at the other person’s nose instead. It feels less threatening. Work on responses your child can use in social settings. Most often children are asked “Wow, you must have grown?” or “How is school? Do you like your teacher?” If your child is shy practice these exchanges with them in a role play at home. Confidence grows with practice.

Gratitude
We teach gratitude when we instill a habit of recognizing when somebody else does something for us and we respond with a recognition. “Thank you. I appreciate you doing that.” “Thank you for making dinner mom” Thank you for washing my clothes” “Thank you for taking me to the park”

Kindness and Empathy
We teach kindness when we encourage our children to notice the needs of others and respond to them. We teach them to acknowledge others. “Good Morning!” “Thank you” and “please”. We teach kindness when we teach children to respond to questions they are asked and notice what another might need. “Can I hold the door for you?” “Can I help you carry that bag?” “Can I set the table?” “Can I take the plates to the kitchen?” We are encouraging a lifestyle of kindness and noticing others.

We live in a social world
Teaching tangible ways to express kindness and respect create pathways to positive relationships and connection. We live in a social world and people respond to kindness. We want to set our children up for success. People respond to being noticed and valued and we give our children a gift when we teach them, one interaction at a time, how to engage people well. Relationships matter. Manners are a tool to showing you care. When children are young, we teach and reinforce and as they get older this becomes a natural way for them to engage the world. Remember, children learn from watching you. Practice kindness and they will follow your example.