Etiquette is learned at home and the beginning of this new year is a great time to establish the foundation of good behavior. It starts with clear rules and consistent consequences.
To that end, author and internationally-recognized etiquette expert Jacqueline Whitmore shares her top 7 ways to ensure children learn the importance of good manners.
1. Lead by example. Before they’re taught proper manners, a child will look to you — and other adults around him or her — for cues on how to behave. Would you be horrified if your child was disrespectful toward his teacher? If so, it’s important for you to avoid being disrespectful toward others. Strive to be a good role model: keep a cool head, treat others with respect, and avoid inappropriate language, especially in public.
2. Emphasize family dinners. When you sit down at the dining room table as a family, take the opportunity to teach your child table manners as well as conversational skills. As they begin to watch and imitate your behavior more closely, you’ll have the opportunity to regularly reinforce the importance of good manners. If you want your child to pick up good habits, always use the magic words like “please” and “thank you” — especially when you speak with the wait staff at a restaurant.
3. Set firm rules and stick to them. Make it clear to your child what kind of behavior you expect of him or her. A good place to start? Require he or she show respect to you, as well as others. When your child begins to behave poorly, give a warning and briefly explain why that behavior isn’t acceptable. Make it clear what consequences your child should expect if he or she breaks a specific rule. Then stand your ground and follow through with a time-out or by taking a privilege away.
4. Encourage patience. Babies are selfish for good reason; in many ways their survival depends on their ability to immediately make their needs known. As your child transitions into toddlerhood, it’s the perfect time to teach patience. When your child asks for something, don’t react immediately. Instead, give them a few moments and allow them to feel what it’s like to wait for something. Verbalize how proud you are when he or she shows patience.
5. Parent as a team. Whether you have a traditional family structure or live in a home with two or more adults, work together as a team. Kids will test you over and over as they try to find ways around rules and expectations. Busy parents who forget to communicate may fall prey to a common trick: divide and conquer. When you respond to a request with a firm “no,” your child will immediately appeal to the other parent. If you want to put a stop to this tactic, explain that a “no” from one parent means “no” from both parents.
6. Be consistent. Young children look for patterns as they learn the rewards of good manners and the consequences of bad behavior. When you set firm expectations, celebrate successes and follow through with punishments, your child will learn and adapt her behavior accordingly. Clearly defined boundaries will encourage your child to think before she acts.
7. Reward good behavior. This is especially important when your toddler regularly challenges you with grocery store temper tantrums and unruly outbursts. The first time your child exhibits good manners without prompting, make your reaction outlandishly positive and intense. Praise her behavior and immediately let others know how proud you are — even if this means a quiet whisper to a nearby stuffed animal. The reaction will thrill your child and help to associate love and attention with good behavior.
And thanks for reading!