Phrases such as “Don’t put your elbows on the table,” “Chew with your mouth closed,” and “Please say ‘Excuse Me’ if Mommy is talking to someone and you need her attention,” are probably all too familiar to children and parents. When trying to instill good manners in their children, parents may often feel like a broken record and that they’re not getting through to their kids.
It’s important to remember that polite behavior, like many other behaviors, is not something that your children are born knowing but rather something that they are taught, and that they learn during successive stages of development.
Here are some age-appropriate guidelines for teaching manners to children:
1 to 2 years old: Practice the magic words
Getting children to sit still for very long at this age can be difficult. Be patient, and practice with your toddler the “magic words,” such as:
- May I
- Thank you
- You’re welcome
- Excuse me
- I’m sorry
Lesson Plan: Have a “tea party” with your child and his or her stuffed animals, and demonstrate how to use the “magic words” properly. Also, be sure to use real-world moments to show your child how to use those words. For example, teach your child to say “excuse me” after he or she burps, or “I’m sorry” after he or she misbehaves.
3 to 6 years old: Teach how to interact with other people
This is the age range where you can begin to lay a foundation for raising a polite child. At this age, a child typically socializes with other children of the same age at daycare or school, and often has play dates with classmates.
Lesson Plan: Teach your child how to share his or her toys and the importance of taking turns, and be sure to teach that it is never okay to hit another child or to call another child names. You can also teach your child to say “goodbye” and “thank you” when leaving a friend’s house.
Lesson Plan II: Practice good listening skills at home that your child can replicate in the classroom. Teach your child to look people in the eye when they speak to him or her, and to say “excuse me” if he or she has something to say, instead of interrupting.
7 to 10 years old: Teach how to be gracious
By this age, your child should have a pretty good sense of right and wrong. Now is the time to teach your child empathy and gratefulness for what he or she has, and for what others do that benefit him or her.
Lesson Plan I: When your child receives a gift for a birthday or holiday, have your child write a thank-you note. Doing so not only reinforces having your child say “thank you” in person to the gift-giver, but also allows your child to learn proper etiquette and to practice handwriting. It’s a win-win!
Lesson Plan II: It’s also important to teach your child how to lose with grace. Many children at this age play organized sports. Even if your child is not athletically-inclined, play a game with him or her that teaches how to be a good sport, regardless of the outcome. The game doesn’t have to be a sport; it could be a card game or board game. A sore loser can be just as bad as a sore winner.
11 to 13 years old: Teach how to be a good guest
At this age, you might start to give your child a little more independence, and he or she may likely spend some time at friends’ homes.
Lesson Plan: Teach your child to obey the rules of someone else’s home, even if the rules differ from the ones established for your own home. Let your child know that you expect him or her to be on best behavior when a guest in another person’s home. Importantly, if your child ever feels uncomfortable or unsafe in someone’s home, tell your child to be sure to tell you immediately.
14 to 18 years old: Teach how to be respectful
Teenagers sometimes get a bad rap and earn a reputation – whether founded or not – of showing disrespect toward adults. Do not allow your child to get away with rude behavior toward you or any other adult, under any circumstance.
Lesson Plan: Listen to your teenage and treat him or her with the same respect that you expect of him or her. Encourage your teen to be on time for appointments and for any other planned or scheduled events. Also, in view of today’s youth being attached to technology, you can and should allow your teenager time to use his or her devices, but tell your teen that you expect his or her full attention when you spend time together.