How To Teach Proper Etiquette to Kids

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The simple definition of etiquette is “The rules indicating the proper and polite way to behave.” An alternative definition states etiquette is “The conduct or procedure required by good breeding or prescribed by authority to be observed in social or official life.”

But is it your responsibility as a parent to teach your children etiquette?

Absolutely. Teaching good manners and general etiquette to your children has significant implications, and sets a standard of behaviour in which other behaviours can be measured.

Why is it important to teach etiquette?

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There are many benefits that derive from teaching children good manners. And let’s face it, every parent likes to hear from other parents, teachers, grandparents, and friends how polite and courteous their children are.

Proper etiquette is essential in all aspects of life for gaining the respect of others. Good etiquette:

  • Sets the stage for better behaviour. Children taught etiquette from a young age have a lower chance of behaving irresponsibly or unruly. By following proper manners guidelines, children establish lifelong good habits.
  • Generates self respect and integrity. Etiquette boosts a child’s self esteem and character, which can open doors for them in the future. Children who possess good manners will be more receptive to accepting instruction, and generally have better reading and listening skills. Good manners teach children to effectively manage their environment.
  • Teaches appreciation. When children express their appreciation for things done for them or given to to them, they feel better about themselves because they were kind in return. In essence, they begin to see themselves as “givers” rather than “takers”. Without such expressions of gratitude, it’s easy for children to take things for granted.

How do you go about teaching etiquette?

The first step in teaching etiquette is to practice it yourself. Remember, children learn from those around them, so if your own manners and principles are poor, you can’t really expect your children to practice good etiquette.

But when should you start teaching etiquette?

From around 18-months old, children begin to understand other people have feelings just like theirs. It’s important to expand on this awareness, and teach them to be watchful of those feelings from this point on.

Good etiquette should be looked at as a way of life, and not something to pull out only at Grandma’s in the hope of treats. Consistent manners and expected behaviour is key, and will make etiquette an automatic response, rather than a forced one.

Practicing good etiquette doesn’t have to be complicated, and starting with the basics, children will quickly learn being polite and well-mannered has perks. Basic manners and responsibility include:

Table manners

As you watch your toddler purposely drop his spoon on the floor, or cheekily throw his chicken nugget, you might be thinking teaching table manners is something he’s not ready for. But with a big serving of patience, it can be done.

The dinner table is where your own manners are most on show, so use this time to teach your toddler about how pleasant dining can be. Say “please” and “thank you” when something is passed, and refrain from lectures, arguments, or negative stories.

Offer praise for good behaviour with words such as, “I love how straight you are sitting at the table. What lovely manners,” or “Thank you for using your spoon instead of your fingers.” Don’t overdo it however, or they’ll want to be the centre of attention every time you sit at the table.

When addressing poor behaviour, it’s important to be consistent in your reminders.

What to expect: By age 3, children should be able to eat with a spoon and fork, stay seated at the table for 15-20 minutes, and wipe their mouth with a napkin.

General courtesy

‘Please’ and ‘thank you’s’ are the first point of call when it comes to general courtesy, and can be taught from the moment your child starts forming words. Once they have it down pat, you can introduce other polite words such as ‘excuse me’ and ‘you’re welcome’.

What to expect: An 18-month old should have “ta” and “please” down pat, while a 3-year-old should be using 3-4 polite words frequently.

Sharing

Teaching young children to share is no easy task, so practicing patience is important. A child doesn’t truly understand the concept of sharing until around the age of 5. However they can be taught to wait their turn, and should learn it’s okay for others to want to play with something they are enjoying. A good way to try and tackle sharing issues is to explain sharing is fun.

When introducing the sharing concept, your child needs to learn things aren’t permanent. You could try introducing a timer when playing with toys, teaching children moving onto a new activity is okay.

Try to avoid forcing the very young to share their most favourite possessions as this can cause great distress. Instead, you might consider hiding their favourite toy away when others come to play.

What to expect: By age 2 your child should have a very basic understanding of sharing and turn taking. Just don’t expect them to enjoy it that much!

Apologising

Before a child can apologise they need to realise they’ve done something wrong. This can be difficult for children still in the “me” stage (between 12 and 30 months), but by age 3 it’s important children are aware of the importance of apologising.

Your explanation when getting kids to say sorry should be simple: “We say sorry when we do something that hurts or bothers someone, even if you don’t think you did anything wrong.” If your child still won’t say sorry, you can further this by adding, “How do you think Billy feels. If you had tripped over do you think you would like an apology?”

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What to expect: From the age of 2 your toddler should have a general understanding of empathy, however most toddlers are caught up in themselves and will require prompting.

Cleanliness

Young children tend to be very slow when it comes to any form of tidying, and it’s tempting to tidy up on their behalf. However, by doing this you are teaching them it’s okay to move onto a new activity without finishing the one they are doing. It’s important to teach children early tidying is a part of life, and in order to continue play, they must first tidy up what they were doing.

Getting an 18-month old to gather up their blocks isn’t always doable however, so your best bet is to set the habit early by having them watch you do it. As you tidy, explain the importance of what you are doing, and eventually they will start to help you themselves. Before long tidying up will be an automatic response.

What to expect: Have patience early on, and expect there will be many times when you are left to tidy on your own. This is okay in the beginning, as long as you insist no new activity be started until the last block or toy is put away.

Children will need coaching and reminders on manners throughout their childhood, and it’s important to offer lots of positive reinforcement. When your expected etiquette is not met, try not to be too harsh in your criticism, and instead remind your children why etiquette is important. As long as you practice good etiquette yourself, your children will eventually get it.

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