By: Nina Malanay
Have you ever been in a sticky social situation with your child and just wanted to pretend your kid isn’t yours because of the faux pas he committed? Take heart, mama, because your child’s impolite behavior isn’t always intentional. Young kids don’t always realize that it’s rude to interrupt, pick their nose, or say out loud that the special dinner painstakingly prepared by grandma is gross.
In today’s busy, modern world, parents may not always have the time to teach kids proper etiquette and manners, especially when most kids are left in the care of yayas and caregivers. But children cannot just be expected to instinctively know all these social rules. As parents, we need to teach, show and reinforce socially-acceptable behavior.
Although so much has changed in society, manners never go out of style. Good manners are essential in any civilized community. Children who learn proper decorum at an early age will take it with them well into adulthood and help make them more successful in their own family lives, friendships and careers and will be better equipped to handle themselves in society.
But at what age should children be taught about manners?
Emily Post, the famous etiquette guru, once said, “Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use.”
At around 18 months, children begin to recognize that other people have feelings and that their behavior may affect others as well. They begin to understand that there are certain socially-accepted patterns of behavior. This is a good time to start teaching kids about manners. Start by being polite in the way you talk to your child and in your daily interactions with others. Help your child think about other people’s feelings — after all, good manners and etiquette are primarily about being thoughtful and considerate of others.
The key to successfully teaching your child about etiquette is to start by teaching the basic, age-appropriate manners and gradually adding more when the child is ready. This is so as not to overwhelm them or stifle their development. Here are some basic manners to teach kids.
1. Say “Please” and “Thank you”.
Toddlers who are starting to become verbal can be taught to say please and thank you. While it may take time for them to grasp the concept and its use, being familiar with these phrases through repetition will help them integrate these words in their vocabulary.
2. Knock on closed doors.
Teach kids the importance of respecting others’ privacy by teaching them to knock and wait for a response before opening the door.
3. Use your indoor voice.
Teach kids the nuances of speech and guide them to use their indoor voice for when they are indoors and reserve loud talk for when they are outdoors.
4. Don’t interrupt.
Children often have difficulty being patient and delaying gratification. Teach kids to not interrupt when people are having a conversation, including telephone conversations. Teach them to find a lull or a break in the conversation and say “Excuse me”.
5. Observe table manners.
Don’t talk when your mouth is full. Chew with your mouth closed. Elbows off the table. Don’t play with your food. These are just some table manners that you can teach even young children.
6. Respect elders and persons of authority.
Filipinos accord much respect to their elders. Teach your child to address older persons politely in both words and tone, and use “po” and “opo” when talking to older people.
7. As you pass through doors, look to see if you can hold the door for anyone.
Teach kids to be aware of their surroundings and to offer their help.
8. What came from inside the body should be removed in private.
Young children may not see anything wrong with picking their nose or taking out food stuck between their teeth in public. Teach kids to clean their nose as they take a bath or use the restroom to remove food stuck in their teeth.
9. Don’t ask for or consume too much food at other people’s homes.
Teach your children that even though the food or snacks is their favorite, they must wait until it is offered to them. Likewise, teach your kids to have just one serving of the food being offered to them, unless there’s enough for everyone to have more than one serving or if the host insists.
10. Eat what is prepared for you.
Teach your child to try what is prepared for them whether it’s their favorite or not, whether at home or in someone else’s home. Explain to them that they don’t have to eat the whole portion of the food, but they should at least try it, and not make faces or rude comments if they don’t like the dish.
Teaching manners to young children may seem daunting and overwhelming, but it isn’t impossible. Here are some tips to help you get started.
1. Start early.
Begin teaching manners at an early age but consider what is age-appropriate. For very young children, for example, it is developmentally difficult for them to sit still for extend periods. So if your child wants to leave the dinner table after only 10 minutes, remind yourself that he is not trying to misbehave; he is just acting his age. Adjust your expectations as your child gets older.
2. Introduce a new skill each month.
Start with the basics and gradually add more as your child becomes ready so he does not feel overwhelmed. Too many rules at a time might make your child feel resentful about being controlled.
3. Be consistent.
Both mom and dad, and the caregivers should be on the same page and encourage (and discourage!) the same behaviors so the kid knows exactly what is expected of him. Nothing can be more confusing to a child than having Mom say no to one thing, only to have Dad say yes to the same behavior.
4. Model the behavior you expect to see in your child.
Actions speak louder than words and what you actually do and how you behave in different social situations is more likely to be caught by your child than what you say. Be sure you walk the talk. Let your child see you thanking the waiter who brings your order or letting the older couple go ahead of you at the check-out counter. This will help her catch the nuances of etiquette and decorum.
5. Practice and repetition go a long way.
As you teach new manners and social skills, give opportunities for your child to practice what she has learned. Role-play different situations together or make a game out of it. Have a formal family dinner at home and practice the table manners you have taught her. Practice the proper way to behave in other people’s home by acting it out with her stuffed toys. Make learning about manners fun.
6. Teach the 5 magic words.
Equip your child by teaching the 5 polite phrases early on. “Please”, “Thank you”, “Excuse me”, “May I”, and “No, thank you” should be part of every child’s vocabulary. Use the same polite phrases when you talk to your child to show the context when each is used so that using them becomes second nature to her.
7. Celebrate your child’s progress.
Children (and even adults) love being praised, especially when given by a parent or someone they respect. Very often, however, parents make the mistake of noticing and responding to inappropriate behavior that they fail to recognize and praise positive behavior. This may cause the child to seek attention by behaving inappropriately. Catch your child being good and immediately give positive feedback. Instead of saying, “Very good!”, say “I like how you waited until I was finished talking on the phone. You were being polite. Great job!”
8. Be patient.
Kids are self-centered by nature; they have difficulty thinking about how other people feel. Expect them to forget what you’ve taught them or make mistakes; it’s part of learning. Be patient with them, especially when you correct them. This also teaches them the values of respect and empathy and you give them the perfect example of how to conduct yourself with manners.
With all the outside influence that children encounter daily, establishing good manners can be challenging but it is possible. It just requires a bit of patience and commitment on your part as a parent.
Nina Malanay is a mother to two rambunctious, affectionate boys, aged 7 and 4. Her husband-slash-best friend died in a tragic bombing incident in 2013. As she tries to navigate through life with her boys as a solo parent, she hopes to rediscover herself beyond the many hats she wears – mother, teacher, writer, baking enthusiast, student of life – and move boldly into her future.