On numerous occasions, my mother has told me, “Your child will not learn it the first time. It will take 5,387 times before he will start to catch on.” This couldn’t be more true if it stood up and pointed north! It isn’t true in every case. Sometimes kids pick up good habits just as quickly as they pick up bad ones. It is, however, close to the truth in the 5,387 things I’m trying to teach my kids on a daily basis.
Enter manners. Some kids have them. Other kids need them. All parents should understand how to teach manners to kids whether they are at home, with family, in public, or you name the place. I’m not saying you should hammer it in all-day, every-day. I just don’t want you to let a please or thank you slide because it doesn’t seem like a big deal at the time. This post will share my thoughts, techniques, and what I’ve learned from our many kids about when and how to teach manners to kids.
Why bother teaching manners to kids?
Children are brought into this world as these adorable mini-me’s—the narcissistic combination of everything you love about yourself and your spouse. The only thing they know is me, Me, and ME! As parents, guardians, and influential adults in kids’ lives, we get the awesome job of gently steering them away from selfishness and towards selflessness. Manners are a great way to open that door, and learning how to teach manners to kids gives you the key to that door.
Another solid fact is that children without manners are at a disadvantage socially than those children with manners. Adults find entitled children to be annoying and rude. Children do not want to be around other children who don’t share or play fair. For a few more good reasons to teach manners now so that children use them into adulthood, check out this article by The Spruce.
Ultimately, learning how to teach manners to kids is good for your child on many levels. Manners reinforce listening to parents, teach them how to respect others, and brightens the world around them with opportunities they may not have been given if they acted less than polite or respectful.
Your child using manners also makes YOU look fabulous! Not that that should be the driving force, but WOW did it feel phenomenal to my very core to hear how beloved my child was because of how courteous and helpful he was in class. He was a friend to every student, treated every student, even those with disabilities, with sincerity and respect, and was happily willing to help the teacher with tasks! Even though he could be a tornado at home, I knew I had done something right. I had proof AND witnesses! It truly brings me joy every single day. Trust me. You want that feeling.
When and how to teach manners to kids.
If there is an opportunity for your children to use their manners, they should use them. However—and here comes the kicker—kids don’t know this. We have to teach it. Not in a classroom, by then, it’s too late, and it’s not the school teacher’s job to know how to teach manners to kids. Manners should be reinforced before kids become school-aged. Use manners when at the breakfast table, the library, the grocery store, restaurants, their grandparents’ house, when doing homework after school, playtime, supper, bedtime, and every time between, no matter the age.
When our baby girl was one year old, she babbled a lot, but no audible words except Dada, Mama, and Hi! When I played with her, I used please, thank you, and you’re welcome. She couldn’t say these words, but she began to mimic the pitch I made when I said the words to her, and she was doing so at the appropriate times. Not every time, but she did it more often than not. She would even do it with her brothers! Now that she is older, she uses her manners more often than not. If she doesn’t, I nicely remind her by having her repeat what she said except using her manners with it.
You may be thinking, “My kid is older than 1! Help me with that!” It’s the same concept. At every opportunity, use your manners. If we aren’t modeling good manners in front of our children, it will take a lot longer for them to catch on that those manners are good, correct behavior. Use please and thank you when you talk to your spouse, your children, when you’re on the phone, or talking to the mail person at the door. You can even use your manners when talking to Siri or Alexa!
Our oldest is a quick one, though. I will ask him, “Can you please fold the towels now?” His response, “No, I don’t want to do that right now.” By making it a question, he hears it as an opportunity to choose to do it or not to do it. In reality, the option is for him to decide what is right, and that would be listening to his mother. That is precisely what I tell him when I say, “I was just being polite, now go fold the towels.”
What are age-appropriate manners?
From my experience, children as young as 12 months old can be introduced to manners. That being said, your 12-month-old will not behave like a charm school graduate.
At 12 months, introduce manners by modeling the manners you hope to teach. Don’t expect your kids to do anything you don’t do yourself. Check out the list below for age-appropriate manners to teach and to expect from your kids by the time they reach the next milestone!
How to teach manners to kids ages 1 to 2 years.
What to teach:
The Magic Words
- Thank you
- You’re welcome
How to teach it:
At this age, modeling is your biggest tool. When you interact with your little one (playing with toys, reading books, and mealtime), emphasize when you say please and thank you. Be sure to say, “You’re welcome!” if you do something for her. If she hands you a toy, respond with a proud and loving Thank You!
How to teach manners to kids ages 3 to 6 years.
What to teach:
All the manners listed above and the following:
- Sharing with others. I believe in sharing. I do not believe in giving up a toy just because someone asks for it—more on this in a bit.
- Taking turns and waiting patiently.
- Saying excuse me to get by someone or to get an adult’s attention.
- Cough or sneeze into the elbow if they can’t get a tissue soon enough.
- Say “God bless you” to someone that sneezes.
- Look people in the eyes when they are talking with you.
- Say thank you and goodbye when leaving someone’s home.
- Have good manners at the table—chew with a closed mouth, use utensils (not fingers), no bubble blowing in the drinking cup.
- Don’t reach for things at a table. Ask for them to be passed.
- Obey the rules of another person’s home.
- Not to hurt others both physically or by name-calling.
- Respect the feelings of others.
How to teach it:
The above list usually has to be taught at the moment it is needed, most likely involving siblings. When it comes to respecting feelings, each child needs to listen to others’ feelings and discover how they went from playing fine to yelling and screaming at one another. A parent moderator is necessary for this situation.
I find kids like to blame each other for how they respond to a situation. It is also an excellent time to tell your child that they are the only one responsible and in control of how they act and how they react. Be sure to have each one apologize where needed. Hugs are acceptable too!
Consistently prompting and leading by example is effective in teaching manners to kids. Also, and this is super important, be patient and positive. Shaming or scolding your child into using their manners does not foster a healthy relationship between your child and those actions or any other manner you enforce with a mean-momitude (or mean-daditude). A simple, even-toned prompting will suffice. You can even praise your child for using good manners with others. Positive reinforcement goes a long way!
If you wonder what I mean by prompting, read this following little tidbit. If not, move on to the next paragraph. To prompt your child is to gently encourage or remind them of the correct behavior or response to a situation.
Example: Little Sophie gives Lucas the green car, so you remind him with a “Wasn’t that very nice of Sophie to give you the green car? Go and tell her thank you.” He says thank you, and boom! He is learning to associate thanks and kindness!
Another way to teach is to ask questions. Your child’s brain will make the connection on its own more quickly if you allow them to come up with the answer. Instead of outright correcting a behavior, ask your child what he should be doing.
Example: At the supper table, your child uses his sleeve to wipe his mouth. Instead of saying, “Use your napkin!” Ask him, “What do we use to wipe our face and hands when eating?” This will get his gears going and help him to remember it next time. Ok, if I’m being honest (which I am), he won’t remember it next time. You’ll likely have to reinforce this one (and many others) for years. But eventually, it will sink in.
If your child hits or is name-calling, then it’s time to put a more serious teaching face on. Comfort the child that was hurt and tell your child that hitting (punching, kicking, biting, name the infraction) is NOT good behavior, and there are consequences. Be sure you are telling your child that the action is bad, not the child. I like to use the phrase, “You are not a bad kid, you are a good kid, but what you did, that was bad.”
When a child has lousy behavior consequences are sure to follow. We find that natural consequences are a great learning tool, but extra chores also work as a good consequence for lousy behavior. You can check out age-appropriate chores here and some natural consequences here!
When it comes to sharing, children should share when appropriate. If your child has several toys, she can give a few to the friend who wants to play. However, if your child starts to play with something and hasn’t had it for very long, she does not have to give it up when another child wants a turn.
For example, three-year-old Julie wants a turn on the trike that Mara just got on. I would tell Julie that she can have a turn when Mara is finished with her turn. Then I set a personal timer to make sure one child isn’t hogging the same toy the whole time, and the child that asked to play with it still gets a turn.
Setting a time frame and outlining the expectations will calm Mara’s fear about giving up her toy and that Julie has about not getting a turn. If Mara had been on the trike for a while, I would ask her to please get up in a minute so Julie can have a turn. This way, Mara knows her time is limited and won’t throw a (huge) fit when it is time to let Julie have a turn.
This works for nearly all ages because you’re preparing them for what’s next and providing closure instead of tearing away the thing they are focused on. This is another instance when you can remind Julie to tell Mara thank you for sharing with her, and Mara can respond with, you’re welcome!
How to teach manners to kids ages 7 years and up.
What to teach:
All the manners in the previous lists should be mastered—and by master, I mean, you’ve taught it more than once and continue to reinforce it regularly because we haven’t reached 5,387 times just yet. Here are some additional manners for ages 7 and up:
- How to give compliments and receive them.
- To knock on closed doors.
- Learn to keep negative opinions to yourself or between you and your parents.
- Everyone has their own opinion and is entitled to have it. Knowing when to share it is critical. If what your child wants to say is hurtful, then it is unnecessary. Hurting someone’s feelings is not respectful or showing God’s love through actions. For instance, If something tastes bad, tell your child to eat a couple of bites of it anyway. If something is boring, remind your child to sit quietly until it is done. This shows respect for others. Even if little Tommy doesn’t care for it, someone put effort into it for him so he can make an effort to show respect and gratitude.
- Don’t criticize another person’s appearance.
- How to write a thank-you note after receiving a gift.
- How to be punctual.
- If you’re early, you’re on time. If you’re on time, you’re late!
- A proper hand-shake.
- How to answer and make a phone call.
- Hold the door for whoever is walking in shortly behind them.
- Never use profanity, especially around adults.
- The use of profanity shows disrespect towards themselves and others. I also ask my kids, “If you could see Jesus standing next to you, would you still say that?” If the answer is no, then they shouldn’t be saying it at all because we have Jesus in our hearts at all times.
How to teach it:
Hold specific behavior standards at home to reinforce how your children behave in public with or without you around. If you don’t allow burping in public, then tell your child to cover his mouth when he does it at home. Sometimes kids don’t realize that their behavior is rude or impolite. Why would they? They have more important things on their minds like games, fun stuff, and more games. Praise Jesus they have you as a parent because you are there to teach these valuable lessons!
At 7 years and older, you will be using every technique. Model the behavior you want your children to emulate. Practice at home how they should also behave in public. Prompt at home AND in public!
You may be visiting their grandparent’s house, but that doesn’t mean their manners go out the window. If little Billy is throwing a fit because he can’t have the toy he wants exactly when he wants it, you take him aside and set him straight on the matter. Something like, “We do not throw fits. We wait patiently for our turn. If you keep crying and yelling, I will not let you have a turn with the toy.”
When leaving, remind your kids to tell their grandparents Thank You, and I Love You. I don’t know a grandparent that doesn’t love a good hug too! You can give positive reinforcement at any age. It looks different to a 4-year-old than it does to an 11-year-old, but it is still effective.
To sum it all up.
Teaching manners—and the plethora of other life skills—is our duty as parents. We signed up for this, and we need to see it through. Their future depends on it, and so does yours!
I can handle feeling embarrassed in public if I have to remind my young child to use his manners. I doubt I can handle knowing that my adult child is out in the world, unsupervised, likely not practicing common courtesies because I was too embarrassed to take advantage of the teachable public moments when he was young.
You CAN do this, and I hope this post gave you some clarity on the road ahead! Take a deep breath, ask the Lord to guide your tongue and actions, and forge onward with teaching your kiddos manners. If you think I’ve missed something, let me know! I’d love to hear what manners you’ve been ingraining in your kiddos and how you did it!