By: Maralee McKee, Manners Mentor
As moms and dads we want to raise our children in a way that helps them grow up into great adults.
We understand that the best schools, sports, and arts programs in the world won’t get our kids anywhere as adults if no one wants to be around them.
Their future happiness won’t come from their job title, bank account balance, or the stories they’ll be able to tell about the time they were twelve years old and kicked the winning goal or had the lead in the middle-school play.
All of these things can add to their happiness, but they can’t form its foundation. And without a firm foundation, you know what happens — everything crumbles into ruins.
When your children become adults, their long-standing relationships with you, their spouse, boss, in-laws, co-workers, friends, and others, that they form by being authentically kind and caring; and their knowing what to say and do personally and professionally to shape the ways people perceive, interact, and respond to them, make for happy adults.
They have a word for that skill: manners.
So as loving moms and dads, we set out to teach our children manners, but my goodness, if your children or teens are anything like mine, they sometimes seem to enjoy making it tough on us to teach them to be gracious and courteous.
We remind (maybe even bribe) our children to “use your good manners,” but the good manners don’t always seem to stick. At least not when we seriously need them to, like when they’re around our mother-in-law, or at our boss’s house, or meeting the new pastor. Yikes!
Sure, some of it is children doing childish things. We have to keep their age, attention span, and natural bent (introvert vs. extrovert) in mind before we go mentally beating up ourselves (or our kids) for their not living up to the standards of kind, other-centered, polite interactions we want them to have for our current sanity and their long-term good.
So is there hope even though for the past five years we’ve been telling them to look at people when they talk to them, use a napkin, don’t complain about the food at someone else’s house, and don’t use all the hot water before your sister has a chance to take a shower?
Is it possible to teach manners in such a way that we can stop the constant
nagging reminding and have our children embrace what we’re teaching them to the point that the skills become part of their character, a way that they express themselves that’s as natural for them as their native tongue?
In one word: Yes!
There are eight steps that work in conjunction with one another. In my book Manners That Matter for Moms, chapter three is devoted to those steps and how to implement them. Today, allow me to introduce three of them. I call these three steps the “Trinity of Instilling Manners.” They’re the first blocks we lay in our foundation.
3 Ways to Teach Manners So Your Child Will Use Them
1. Be Mindful of Your Nonverbal Communication
Much of good manners is nonverbal. Our body language, facial expression, and tone of voice speak for us more than the actual words we use. As parents, our nonverbal communications influence our children’s opinion and treatment of others and themselves.
Beware of multitasking! When your attention is already divided between texting a coworker about tomorrow’s meeting and folding the laundry, you can’t respond to your children with the attention they deserve. Multitasking breaks down your focus, and that breaks down your manners.
The best thing to do is to look up from texting for a moment and let your children know you’ll give your full attention as soon as you finish your text. Then, without folding the laundry, give them your full attention.
In reality, they probably want your ear for just a few minutes because they want to get back to what they were doing or get to what they’re about to ask your permission to do.
For children who are old enough, ask them to join you in your task. Even though it’s “work,” you’re now connecting on two levels. Try saying something like, “I want to hear everything you have to say. It’s getting late. Let’s talk while we fold the laundry together. I’d appreciate the help and the time with you!”
Be mindful of other nonverbal messages and attitudes you model for your children on a daily basis.
~How do you respond to the nightly news?
~Do you speak respectfully of those in public service even if you don’t necessarily agree with them?
~What do you say during your phone calls, and what’s your demeanor after you hang up the phone from talking with your mom, in-laws, boss, or neighbor?
~How do you treat waiters and cashiers? Are you the nicest customer they’ll have all shift? Are you treating them the way you’d want someone to treat your child when he or she is in high school or college and has the same or a similar job?
Children are mimics. They’re going to act like we do despite our attempts to teach them good manners!
2. Notice and Praise
Children tend to give us more of what we compliment them for. If we notice them using good manners and compliment them, they’ll duplicate it because they truly want to please us.
The secret is in NOT complimenting their general good manners. That can leave them uncertain about what they did that was “good.” Was it that they put their dirty dish in the sink this morning, or that they only argued with their brother twice this evening?”
Instead, compliment the exact act you’d like to see repeated and also share how their kind actions impacted the other person(s). “I noticed the way you looked at Mrs. Lisak, smiled, and greeted her nicely. I also noticed that you thanked her again for the cookies as we were leaving her house. You made her feel like you were glad to see her and that you appreciated her. I could tell your kind words made her happy. I’m really proud of you, Tanner! You’re good at using your words to make other people’s days special.”
The next time, Tanner will be even more confident when it comes to greeting and thanking others, thanks to the boost in confidence you just gave him!
Another effective way to teach your child to notice how manners impact others is to comment on the actions of people on TV.
As you watch together, talk to your child about the words and conduct of the characters. Ask age-appropriate questions about whether the people acted kindly. If they didn’t, talk about a more appropriate way the character could have handled the situation. Again, bring the conversation around to how the characters’ actions made those they interacted with feel.
People will forget what we say. They’ll even forgive us for what we say. But they’ll always remember how we made them feel, even if they forgive us for it. It’s a good lesson for children to be taught early.
3. Follow the 80-20 Rule
It’s startling, but studies show that 96 percent of the messages most people deliver to their children are unintentionally negative, including: corrections without love, raised voices, angry tones, negative facial expressions, being unavailable, uninterested, rushed, or splitting our attention.
If 96 percent of the messages are negative, that means that only four percent are positive. Positive interactions include: hugs and kisses, specific compliments, listening without interrupting, playing, reading, talking, laughing, relaxing together, and working side-by-side.
We hope our homes are more than four-percent positive. But in reality, we’re probably more negative than we realize, and this will hinder our child’s view of healthy relationships.
The ideal ratio to nurture a strong, trusting, and respectful bond between a parent and child is 80 percent positive and 20 percent (or less) negative.
Even in the midst of our busy days, it’s not hard to reach that mark, because the best kind of positive communication you can have with your child is easy; it’s to say “I love you!” spontaneously, affectionately, and often. Then follow that up with a lifestyle of respect and loving guidance and correction that proves it.
Try this: Go to where your child is, sit down alone with her, smile, look her in the eyes, and say: “I was in the other room thinking about you. You are special to me. I love being your mom (or dad), and I love you. I love who you are, and I love who you’re becoming. Always remember that, okay?”
Your child/teen might be shy, stunned, pretend she doesn’t care, or act like you’re the weirdest person on the planet. The important things are that she heard you and she’ll remember.
The ONLY power we have to influence our children is what they give us freely.
If the heart connection isn’t there with our children (this applies especially as our little ones grow into tweens and teens), we might still have their obedience, but the obedience will only control their actions. Their manners will be window dressing, not character traits.
And besides, we want more than a “Because I said so, that’s why!” relationship with our children. It’s so much better for our children to want to do acts of kindness for the family and others out of the fullness of their heart.
Obedience can flow out of fear or respect. I’ll take respect: obedience born from love.
Good manners won’t happen overnight. But that’s OK! We’re in this for the long haul!
If we’re intentional, loving, and patient; if we model what we want our children to duplicate; and if we let them know we love who they are and who they’re becoming, they’ll get there. And they’ll thank us one day when they’re grown because we taught them how to get along well with and be perceived favorably by others. It makes for confident children and happy, content, successful grown-ups.
Good manners, they’re one thing, the benefits of which, we never outgrow!
XOXO and blessings,
PS: Please check out my book Manners That Matter for Moms. It earned the Mom’s Choice Gold Award for Excellence in Parenting Books!