In our world there is a growing need for parents to be raising polite children. There is an epidemic of entitlement that has caused people to forget that others don’t exist solely to make them happy. Knowing polite behaviors and how to interact with others in a respectful way, not only will make people better adults, it will make them kinder children!
Modeling polite behavior is the very first step in teaching children proper manners. As a parent your children are watching you – the good and bad! As you reflect on your manners it is essential to include polite choices and behaviors into your routine, as it will make it much easier to enforce those in your children. That being said, the following are tips on the five polite behaviors everyone should use, which will ultimately help you raise polite children.
1. Make eye contact.
Everyone wants to be noticed and one of the best ways to show someone that you notice them is by looking at them. And not just staring at someone’s feet – really looking in to their eyes. It can be uncomfortable at times, but making eye contact with someone while you are talking to them is one of the most polite things you can do. Not only does it show that you care, it shows that you are truly listening to what the person is saying to you.
It is not a natural habit to make eye conduct but with prompting it is something children can learn to do. This doesn’t require much more than a “look at their eyes” reminder when your children are speaking to someone else so don’t overcomplicate this behavior! (Please note, culturally it is sometimes unacceptable for children to look at adults. In the USA the polite thing to do is look at who you are talking to and thus is what I believe we should teach our children).
2. Use manner words.
Please and thank you are some of the first words parents often teach their children. Sadly, as the children grow, they often get used less and less. These simple phrases go a long way to helping someone feel appreciated and when they are missing a person notices. My husband is in the healthcare field – in a full time week of work he can usually count on one hand the number of people who said thank you when he assisted them with something. People who utilize his services just assume that because it’s his job to help he doesn’t need to be thanked. However, I strongly disagree with that thought process. Regardless if someone is being paid to help you in some way, you need to be polite by expressing your gratitude.
I often give my children reminders to “use your manner words” and my oldest now will remind me if I forget to say thank you to someone who held the door for me. Sometimes it may seem unnecessary, like saying thank you when a police officer helps you safely cross the street or saying thank you to the teacher at the library story time. However, I’m continually amazed at the smile it brings to adult faces when children use these simple phrases – as if they are surprised to find polite children. Let’s not let politeness be the exception, but raise a generation of children who know their polite manner words for big and small situations!
3. Help please.
Toddlers often use whining, moaning, or crying to express their frustration with something not going their way (let’s be honest, don’t we all wish this trend worked for us as adults some days). On the flip side, one of the most empowering things you can teach your child is the word ‘help’ so that they don’t need to rely on these more annoying forms of communication! I often have to remind my preschoolers to ‘use their words’, which most often is followed by ‘can you please help mommy.’ As a parent I am much more inclined to assist them if they ask me politely, using proper words, instead of stomping feet or growling voices.
This art of asking for help will also make them more humbly independent. As they get older they will be less inclined to assume they already know everything and won’t be afraid to ask for help. Also knowing that mommy won’t just fix the problem will help them take their own initiative when I’m not around. Gaining knowledge about something new is also a major bonus that comes with getting help from other people. Life-long learning, along with a spirit of teachablility, will help children thrive into adulthood.
Going deeper: I have studied “Growing Kids God’s Way” a bit and one of the teachers taught me a very subtle but powerful lesson. Pay attention to the way your children talk to you – I noticed VERY quickly that we had a problem with the way our children asked for demanded our help. All they had to do was express a displeasure and mommy would jump to fill their need (for example: “I’m thirsty” led to mommy just getting out a juice box or “I can’t get this off” so mommy would just take the sticker off the page for them). Not only was this creating a sense of entitlement for my children, it was also creating a home where they were in control of my every move!
It took some time to re-train ourselves, but now my children ASK for help properly with their manners (example: “mommy can you please help me get this open?” “Mommy can you please get me some milk?”). Oh there are days when they forget, but a simple “what do you want me to do about that?” and they re-phrase their statement into a proper, polite question. Just pay attention for a couple of hours to how your children speak and you may find you need some proper questions from your kids too!
4. Saying hello and goodbye.
This is a harder one to wrap my brain around as a parent because some people think the polite thing to do when you greet someone is to give them a hug. I have strong feelings against forcing children to hug adults if they don’t want to, but it has certainly caused me discomfort as the parent when randomly they don’t want to hug grandma goodbye!
At the end of the day though, I still stand by my rule of saying hello and goodbye as it is rude to just ignore people who greet you (but it doesn’t need to involve a hug). If someone is an acquaintance or a stranger I only encourage/require my children to look someone in the eye to say hello or goodbye. However, with closer family members and friends my children get a choice – you may hug or high five. Some days they run to grandma to give hugs and other days they just do a high five (and let’s be honest sometimes it’s even an ‘air five’ so they don’t have to touch them…I swear puberty in toddlers is a real thing). Regardless of what they chose, it’s their choice. They just have to choose something polite to do when greeting others!
I don’t think children can truly be considered polite until they have learned to share. This one is SO hard, especially with the youngest of children, but learning to politely share is a reality required to survive into adulthood. Some people think that sharing means you need to give someone a turn with a toy the moment they ask for it, however I think it goes deeper than that. Sharing also means learning to wait your turn!
Guidelines for Sharing:
• If someone is playing with something you may not just grab it out of their hand. You must wait until they put the toy down and WALK AWAY, indicating that they are done with it.
• New toy owners have first dibs. Whenever my children get new toys for their birthday they are the hot option for playtime. However, for at least a few days the toy owner gets dibs on their new toys.
• Taking turns is also a thing. As Daniel Tiger wisely sings: you can take a turn and then I’ll get it back. This is essential in situations where there is only one or two of an item and more children who want it. Sometimes adults need to step in and set time limits (ex. each person gets 5 minutes with the toy). As children have practice with this they will learn to regulate these situations more on their own. It is essential, however, to also make sure you are enforcing using manner words as the natural tendency is to whine until you get your turn (or maybe that’s just my children.)
In a world where rude behavior and eye rolling are normal I think it’s time to take back control, starting with our own children. These tips are a great starting point for helping raise polite children, but ultimately the most important thing you can do as a parent is teach them to be different. Habits are hard to break so don’t expect change to be instant. Also, don’t expect perfection – children will need reminders about polite manners so make sure you use kind words in your corrections. At the end of the day it will make your parents heart smile when you have someone say– “wow you have very polite children”!
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