By: Maralee McKee, Manners Mentor, Inc.
All good parents love and want the best for their children.
We’re hardwired, or, more accurately, heart-wired, to want our kids to enjoy happy childhoods of being well-liked and having a thoughtfulness toward people that shows them at their best and makes them attractive to others. We long for them to carry these traits into adulthood and grow up into respected, resilient, successful adults who have joyful, healthy relationships.
As parents, how do we make this happen? What skills do we need to teach to set them on the right path and keep them on it, not only because “Mama said so” but also because they realize the value of the path and choose to be on it?
The Path to Good Manners
The first thing we need to do is to keep in mind something incredibly wise said by one of my favorite authors, Andy Andrews (www.AndyAndrews.com), in a recent podcast about the importance of teaching children manners. (Many of his terrific ideas come from the new book, The Noticer Returns.)
Mr. Andrews says there’s lots of talk about raising good kids, but the problem is that this isn’t really the goal of parenting.
Our goal isn’t raising great kids.
Our goal is raising great adults.
Raising great adults starts with a standard. This being such an important topic, it’s a Gold Standard.
You see, without a standard, we don’t have a plan for what we’re trying to accomplish or a map to get our children to where they need to be. The Gold Standard is our plan, our map, and our compass, all in one.
What is this secret Gold Standard? Manners.
It makes perfect sense.
The word manners comes from the ancient Latin word for hand and means “how to handle things.”
When we teach our children manners, we’re teaching them the best practices (the Gold Standard) for how to handle the people and situations they’ll encounter with grace, dignity, kindness, respect, and politeness.
The best way for us as parents to teach our children is by intentionally, lovingly, and patiently living our lives as examples. Yes, I realize that’s a huge undertaking. But don’t worry: when done right, you don’t need to find extra time in your busy schedule to do this. The best approach is to weave brief, age-appropriate conversations with our children into the quiet moments of our days. We simply need to explain how words and actions affect the feelings of others and their own sense of responsibility, pride, and kindness.
Talk about it a lot, because when you do, you’re giving your children a vision of who you see they can become. And when you as a parent give children the gift of a vision (inspiration) for the heights to which they can rise, you’re giving them a brass ring to reach for.
And they’ll grab that brass ring 100 percent of the time!
The Manners That Matter and Why They’re Not Natural
My book Manners That Matter for Moms teaches you how to do this without ever having to nag or become the etiquette police, and it devotes (in most cases) a chapter to each of the ten manners below that you’ll want your children to know before they grow up.
I’m asked a lot, “When should I begin to teach my child manners?” My answer is that we should start at birth. Why soooo young? Because as the saying goes, “We should start in the way we intend to end. (In my book, I even share how you can interact with newborns in a way that will impact their manners for life.)
At the same time, it’s never too late to start. If your child is fourteen or sixteen, don’t despair. Your work will be harder, but you can still be successful.
No matter your child’s age, please don’t fall under the common misconception that teaching good manners isn’t something you need to pay attention to because kids catch on eventually. It’s not true, and it’s the reason our culture is in the place it is right now.
Good manners aren’t common sense. They’re uncommon sense. And they aren’t second nature. They need to be taught and learned purposefully. They don’t come naturally for anyone.
Besides, if they did come naturally, we could all do our own thing and call what we do good manners because by our definition it would be. Oh wait — that’s what our culture is doing now anyway. Thus, we all got to witness (or hear the news about) the recent on-stage romp by Miley Cyrus. Miss Cyrus probably did what came naturally for her. It was within her bounds of good manners.
That’s what happens when we don’t have an agreed-upon standard — a Gold Standard that we follow for the good of the community, regardless of whether we agree entirely with every point of it. In sports, each team has a rulebook and a playbook. That way, everyone on the team knows what to do and what to expect from everyone else, even in the heat of the tough plays. That’s what a manners book does for us in the midst of our everyday encounters.
Follow the book, and when your children leave the comfort and security of your nest for the world beyond, you will have given them social and people skills that allow them to soar on their own through life, able to mold the ways others perceive, interact with, and respond to them. Good manners sets them up for healthy family, social, and professional relationships which are hallmarks of happy, successful, and admired persons.
Manners That Matter for Moms lists more than 100 manners to know before they grow up (with a checklist), and in this article I’m going to tell you ten that you will want to be sure to pass on to your children.
Ten to Know Before They Grow
Note: The chapter number(s) following the skill give you the chapters from the book where you’ll find more about the skill.
1. See and Smile: No one likes feeling invisible. Smile at others. That’s your nonverbal way of saying, “You don’t scare me.” Make eye contact with others so you leave no doubt in their mind that you’ve noticed THEM. Being noticed is one of our strongest desires (Chapter 4).
2. Speak in Sentences: Saying “Good morning!” is nice. However, saying “Good morning, Mrs. Weaver! Have a great day!” is better because the more specific we are, the more our words touch the other person’s heart (Chapters 4 and 7).
3. Use Wonder Words: “Please,” “Thank you,” “May I?,” “You’re welcome,” and all the rest of the polite words really do work wonders. That’s why I refer to them as Wonder Words. All of them remove assumptions. When we use them, we’re not assuming the other person is going to do something for us or that we naturally deserved the kindness just given to us. By using Wonder Words we express that we understand that (Chapter 9).
4. Include Others: Red Rover, Red Rover, send Shanna right over! Children (and adults) can easily fall into the habit of forming a circle of friends and never inviting anyone else right over. By doing so, we miss out on friendships and opportunities, and we leave others alone and on the outskirts. If you teach children to invite other children into their own circle, you’ve taught them a lifetime skill that will make sure they have a wide reach in life (Chapters 4, 6, and 7).
5. See to People’s Comfort: Being a good host isn’t just about pouring tea and taking people’s coats when they come to visit. It’s really more about making others comfortable around you. People easily forget what you say to them, but they never forget how they feel when they’re around you (Chapters 7 and 10).
6. Say Hello and Good-bye with Warmth: Have you ever been chatting with someone who suddenly stops paying attention to you mid-sentence and either starts talking to someone else or just wanders away? Ouch! There’s an art to welcoming someone with a hearty hello and saying good-bye in a way that lets the other person know you look forward to the next time you’re together (Chapters 4 and 7).
7. Express Genuine Gratitude: There are two types of thank you notes. The first kind is written so that people can check “Write my thank you notes” off their to-do list. Those notes are read and then tossed in the trash can and forgotten in hours. The second kind of thank you note expresses gratitude not only for the gift or kindness received but for the person who gave it. Those are the notes that are tucked into keepsake boxes and remembered for years. People tend to want to keep the keepsake box note-writers around in their lives. There’s a five-step formula for writing that type of thank you note. And there is also a whole chapter about it in my book (Chapter 12).
8. Dine With Ease: Dining skills and table manners account for about 10 percent of etiquette. Even though it’s a small amount, it’s an important percentage, not so we can “put on airs” but so we don’t question ourselves. Knowledge is power, but it’s also comfort. When we’re comfortable, those around us tend to be comfortable also because they aren’t picking up on our unease. And when we aren’t thinking about ourselves, we can go about the business of putting others at ease, enjoying ourselves, and rising to the respect that the occasion deserves, especially if it’s a formal one (Chapters 14, 15, 16, and 17).
9. Engage Others in Conversation: Do you know what the No. 1 trait of a great conversationalist is? It’s that they hardly say a thing. What they do instead is engage others in telling about themselves. Learn 75 percent more about others than you tell them about yourself, and they won’t find you a bore at all. Instead, they’ll think of you as interested, gregarious, and very intelligent. It’s true. It’s been proven in test after test (Chapter 7).
10. Give Others Every Reason to Like You From the Start: Some studies claim first impressions are formed in the blink of an eye. Some state that it takes up to 30 seconds. Any way you look at it, it’s really quick! In that short time, other people develop opinions about us (rightly or wrongly) based on their prior experience with others, outlook on life, and the signals we’re sending out. We can’t control their thoughts entirely, but we can control the signals we send. Those include how approachable, friendly, respectful, and trustworthy we appear to be. There’s a simple formula for making a “Five-Star First Impression” that I created that can be introduced to a five-year-old and mastered by a nine-year-old. The great thing is that the simple formula never changes. We follow the same steps whether we’re five or sixty-five (Chapter 4).
These Gold Standards of manners are the top 10 you’ll want your children to know before they grow. With these skills under their wings, they’ll be able to soar all the way up to the vision you gave them and beyond.
Hugs and blessings!
PS: Please comment on this post and pass it along to other parents and grandparents you know via email. Talk about it with your friends and family, and share and like it on your favorite social media sites. Manners matter for all our sakes, especially for the culture our children are surrounded by. It’s time to bring back standards.
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