Do parents teach children manners anymore? Where do we start in teaching our three children under the age of six good manners, especially table manners? Help before it is too late!
–E.B., Pomfret, CT
Teach children manners by making politeness a part of daily family life. Start by letting toddlers (or younger) explore food and beverages with their fingers and mouths. The textures and smells will come alive to them. Helping them to understand that yogurt runs through the tiny tines of their fork, but sits in the bowl of their spoon long enough to make it to their mouth.
Put a large plastic cloth under their highchair when they’re old enough to sit upright and let them go wild with their food. It won’t take long for them to realize that other people sitting around the supper table aren’t making a big mess. Let them discover there is a tidier way to eat.
Supply them with a small spoon and fork. Standing behind the highchair gently guide the utensil in their little hand toward their mouth to show them how it is done. They will attempt to mimic eating with utensils but easily become frustrated and go back to eating with their fingers. Let them take their time. Small veggie puffs help them learn to pick up the food and mush it into their mouth.
Manners start around the supper table. Being considerate, in other words polite, to other people is a step toward awareness of the space and feelings of others.
We don’t shout at the supper table, because we’re inside the house and we use our “inside voices” inside the house. Demonstrate the difference between inside and “outside voices.” Then listen while they vocalize what they’ve learned.
When a visitor comes to the house it is a golden opportunity to teach the child how to greet another person and introduce himself. Role model ahead of time pretending you’re the guest. When they know the person they needn’t shake hands, but you can teach them to greet the guest politely.
In our house we have a copy on the coffee table of the classic book of manners for young people, “Manners Can Be Fun,” by Munro Leaf. Humorous and filled with delightful drawings, it is a favorite of our extended family members. You probably know Munro Leaf’s first classic, “The Story of Ferdinand,” the tale of a gentle bull, which has been in print for eighty years.
The key to teaching good manners is to be consistent. Explain why we don’t put elbows on the table. Because if we all put our elbows on the table, somebody’s milk glass will topple over and spill.
Be patient and good manners will come, when you’re the role model.
By using the magic words “please” and “thank you” consistently yourself, your children will learn the magic of those words too.
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