Manners maketh man (woman and child) but your interpretation of what is ok might be very different from other parents. So how do we navigate the murky waters?
Ask any parent what they expect from their children and ‘good manners’ will come pretty high on the list. Madonna once told ABC News, ‘My children have to clean up their mess, clean up their rooms. Manners, ‘thank you, please, take your dishes to the sink’. I mean gratitude, being grateful, that is, that has to happen. If it’s traditional to be a decent human being, then I’m traditional.’
But pleases and thank yous are the (relatively) easy part. In other areas, and outside of your own home, it can get murkier. Should you respond immediately when your child interrupts an adult conversation? What’s the best way to encourage sharing? Do people still care about elbows on the table – in a restaurant? At Granny’s house?
And, as a parent implementing these rules, how do you tread the line between being a disciplinarian and a raving liberal woolly cardigan? After all, it’s one thing not wanting to stifle your children’s natural exuberance, and another letting them tear unchecked around a fine-dining restaurant yanking at tablecloths and burping the alphabet.
Luckily, there are guidelines to help you navigate this sort of thing.
Debrett’s has long been the go-to authority on British etiquette, style and social skills. So if you need to draw the line, let their guide to children’s etiquette be your benchmark.
10 Top Tips from Debrett’s Guide to Children’s Etiquette.
- Teach your child empathy from an early age. Keep reiterating remarks like ‘how would you feel if someone said that to you?’ and you’ll get your child into the habit of thinking about the impact their behaviour has on others.
- Emphasise the importance of sharing. This doesn’t come naturally, so you have to actually tell children to offer sweets around, give other kids a go on the swing, etc. Again, repetition is valuable.
- Remind them of their ps and qs. This effectively means endless reiterations of ‘say please,’ ‘say thank you…’
- Teach them from the word go that violence (eg. pushing and shoving) will never be tolerated.
- Teach your children not to interrupt when you’re speaking (to another adult or on the telephone). Again, repeated reminders work best. But don’t make it a kneejerk response – sometimes your child does have something important that they urgently need to communicate to you!
- Teach your child to listen carefully. This might entail them getting rewards for sitting still and listening attentively (test them and see if they can repeat what you said back to you). Listening well is an incredibly important social skill, which will prove invaluable when it comes to making conversation.
- Get your child into the habit of asking permission before they help themselves to food, snacks or drinks or switch on the television. If they follow these rules in your own house, the chances are that they will adhere to them when visiting friends’ houses – other parents may find proprietorial rummaging in the fridge or channel-hopping rude and intrusive.
- Children should be taught always to eat with their mouths closed and always to use cutlery. Fingers are for bread, fruit and barbecues.
- Insist that children write proper thank you letters (as soon as they’re capable) for all presents. Supervise these letters and ensure that the child writes more than a perfunctory single sentence.
- Computer games, social networking etc. are all highly addictive, and if you’re not careful you’ll soon end up with an anti-social child, incapable of communicating, unless it’s digitally. Communication with real people must take priority over the digital competition, and as a parent it’s your job to point this out. So insist that your child always stops what they’re doing, looks up, engages in eye contact, and speaks in whole sentences. If they’re not prepared to do that, unplug the machines, or remove the mobile.
And finally, an important reminder for us parents: “Always lead by example. Be polite at all times, listen carefully, act deferentially towards the elderly, show consideration for people in public places. Your good manners will inevitably rub off on your children”.See the complete guide to children’s (and parent’s) etiquette at Debretts or follow them on Twitter.