Photo credit: Steve Debenport/iStock/360/Getty Images
#1 Use magic words
Magic words remain at the very core of good manners, which define us as a civilized people:
Please and thank you. It's quite simple really and something we can teach even the youngest children. When you ask for something, say please. When you receive something, say thank you.
I'm sorry. Apologize when you hurt someone, whether you did with words or actions and whether you did it accidentally or on purpose. And be gracious and forgiving when someone apologizes to you.
#2 Eat nicely
Thanks to drive-thru lunches and dinners in front of the TV, our table manners are severely lacking. Enjoy more family meals at the table (or in a sit-down restaurant) and practice eating nicely with your children:
- Put away your phone.
- Wait until everyone is seated and served before eating.
- Use your utensils and your napkin.
- Take small bites.
- Chew with your mouth closed.
- Don't talk with your mouth full.
- Keep your elbows off the table.
- Don't pick food out of your teeth in public.
#3 Be kind and compassionate
Esther Adler, mother of six and a licensed mental health counselor, works with children in a school setting and finds that they are not always sensitive to the feelings of those around them. "We are not teaching our children the most important manner of all: showing and treating others with respect," says Adler.
"Treat others as you would like to be treated," says parenting expert Robert Nickell, father of seven and the founder of Daddy & Co. and the Daily Daddy blog. "The golden rule will teach children to be polite, empathic and caring."
Acknowledge one another. Aïda Muñoz, a preschool drama teacher in Detroit, finds that many children do not use good manners when greeting others. "In my acting classes, kids are expected to shake hands and use complete sentences: 'Hi, my name is Chase,' for example," says Muñoz. "The responding child answers appropriately: 'Hello, my name is Madison.' Nodding or head shaking doesn't cut it."
Speak kindly to (and of) others. Teasing hurts, and what may seem funny to you can be embarrassing to someone else. Keep criticisms and negative opinions to yourself. Remember the credo, if you don't have something nice to say, don't say anything at all.
Be generous. "When you have enough to share, then do it," says Nickell. "Being generous is a wonderful part of life and something every child should learn and experience." Sharing feels good.
Respect your elders. "Speak to adults respectfully and look them in the eye when they are speaking to you," says Liz Taylor, an etiquette consultant in Minneapolis. Refer to them as Mr. or Mrs. unless they tell you otherwise. (If you don't know their names, refer to them as sir or ma'am.) Politely offer them your seat or let them go before you (through a door, in a buffet line, or anywhere).
#4 Send handwritten thank you notes
When did it become OK to not acknowledge or show appreciation for gifts received? "Not so long ago, it was considered Mothering 101 to instill the importance of the handwritten thank you note in children," says Matt Richardson, co-founder of Gramr Gratitude Co., a business committed exclusively to encouraging habits of gratitude and reviving the thank you note.
"Teaching kids to express gratitude and write thank you notes from an early age is an important reflection of good manners," says Richardson. "Research shows how important gratitude is for overall happiness and well-being, and developing a grateful mindset happens at an early age."
#5 Practice delayed gratification
Be patient and wait your turn. "Patience may be a virtue, but it is also a learned behavior," says Dawn Burke Sena of Charm Studio in Philadelphia. We live in an impatient world that wants instant gratification, and we are doing a poor job of teaching our children that it is not OK to let this happen.
"There seems to be an epidemic of kids that don't know how to wait their turn," says mom Gina Tentzeras. "I can't count the number of times that a child has pushed me or my 3-year-old son to get something first or to get in line ahead of me."
Unfortunately, parents don't always intervene, and "our silence does nothing but condone the impolite behavior," says Tentzeras.
#6 Have integrity
"Honesty and integrity are at the very foundation of one's character," says Sena. Our children must learn how powerful their words are, and how using them wisely is at the core of good manners.
Tell the truth. "It's not always easier to tell the truth, but it's always better in the long run," says Nickell. "Our children should know that lying won't get them anywhere, and that honesty really is the best policy."
Stick to your word. "Teach the importance of following through and living by your word," says Nickell. "It's an essential part of life, and it's a lesson children can begin to learn at a young age." If you say you're going to do something, stick to it.
#7 Embrace electronics etiquette
There is a time and a place to use electronic devices. Candice Scheets has been a nanny for 10 years and sees more and more children using tablets and smartphones. "I feel that parents need to start teaching children when and where it is acceptable to use mobile devices," says Scheets. "There is nothing more disrespectful than saying hello to a child only to have him focus on his device and not acknowledge you."
Nickell agrees. "Between smartphones and computers, people aren't required to interact face to face anymore," he says. "We need these interactions to develop empathy for others and to, in turn, build and develop proper manners and etiquette."
Kids pay less attention to their surroundings when consumed by their phones and tablets. "It is unsafe to let children play with their mobile devices as they are walking in a public place," says Scheets. "Their heads are down, they have no idea where they are going and they run into things."
It's time to encourage our children to spend less time on their computers, smartphones and gaming devices and more time observing their surroundings, engaging with one another and learning how to treat everyone with kindness.
#8 Make a good first impression
College career strategist Elizabeth Venturini created a program called Charm School for the College-Bound™ that demonstrates the critical components of making a great first impression. "Poise, good manners and basic etiquette are vital," says Venturini. "Not knowing the social graces and how to properly engage with people can keep you from prime opportunities."
Connect while chatting. One-word answers may work well for texting, but complete sentences are in order when addressing others face-to-face. "Kick 'Awesome!' to the curb and say something of value," says Venturini.
Take your eyes off the screen. People have become more comfortable looking at a tiny screen than into the eyes of a fellow human being. "When meeting someone, especially for the first time, your phone should be off and away," says Venturini.
Smile. "A real, face-to-face smile beats an emoticon every day of the week," says Venturini. "Look people right in the eye and make a genuine connection with your smile."
Stand up and show up. "When meeting someone for the first time, stand up and take notice of that person," says Venturini. "It's a quiet and compelling demonstration of respect."
#9 Be a good sport
Children and parents alike have to learn to lose without losing it. Sports and games are not all about the win — they're about sportsmanship.
Lose gracefully. If you do your best, then it doesn't matter whether you win or lose. We can't win every game, so when you lose, be sure to thank your opponent, shake hands and say, "Well done!" or "Good job." No sore losers, please.
Maintain a positive attitude. Sports and games should emphasize building each other up, taking turns, playing as a team, working hard and striving to improve. By focusing on these positives, there will be fewer bad manners when there is a loss.
#10 Honor the privacy of others
You don't have to read someone's diary to invade her privacy. In a world of reality TV and 24/7 social media, it's challenging to maintain a sense of privacy. The best we can do is pledge to not add to it.
Knock on the door before entering a room.
Do not eavesdrop on others' conversations.
Don't spread gossip and rumors.
Don't share and forward the personal information (or photos) of others.
Do put an end to forwards that land in your lap. It stops here.