You are probably already setting examples of good manners for your children without realising it. If your little one hands you a pacifier or food, you may say ‘Thank you.’ You may have your little one assist in cleaning off the highchair after mealtimes.

Each of these actions is setting the stage for your child to exhibit good manners to those around them. And leading by example can start early!

Why Leading By Example Is More Effective

Though we may try to teach our children good manners through requesting certain actions, such as requesting that you child say ‘thank you’ after receiving a present from a loved one, studies show that teaching by example is far more effective in the long run in instilling manners in your child’s everyday behaviour.

Firstly, children are more likely to imitate their parents as opposed to doing what their parents ask, so by setting an example to follow, your child will most likely take on those habits and expressions.

Secondly, leading by example will teach your child to express real gratitude and care with others as opposed to parroting actions or words. When children repeat what you ask them to repeat (such as ‘thank you’), it may not be meaningful to them.

If, however, you express your heartfelt thanks in front of them for something that you appreciate, such as cleaning up a mess or if a stranger opens a door, they are more likely to understand the reasons why you might say ‘thank you’ as opposed to merely repeating those words.

When your children does display good manners, be sure to positively reinforce their behaviour.  Praise them, hug them, and let them know how much it means to you that they were kind or respectful to others.

Other Tips To Encourage Good Manners

  • ‘Forcing’ good manners (i.e. you won’t get what you want unless you say please) is often fairly ineffective at encouraging genuinely respectful interactions. It may be more helpful to ensure that everyone around your child is using respectful vocabulary (such as ‘please’ and ‘thank you’) and that you are positively reinforcing good behaviour.
  • Though it’s generally not recommended to force a ‘please’ or ‘thank you’, you should help your child with respectful social cues on the spot. For example, if someone hands them something or gives them a gift, remind them to say thank you (but don’t force it). Saying things like ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ aren’t yet habit for your little one, and they may need a reminder.
  • Start early. The more that your child is exposed to respectful behaviour and language at home, the more likely they will be to exhibit that behaviour outside the home.
  • Think about the behaviours you want your child to exhibit and practice them around the house and in the world. We can’t expect our children to display manners that we are not ourselves practicing.
  • As with everything, be patient! Teaching good manners for your children is a long process and will change at each new developmental stage. Continue to set a good precedent by exhibiting the behaviour that you want to see in your children.

Correcting Bad Manners

Though positive reinforcement is particularly helpful instilling good manners in your children’s behaviour, there will most certainly be instances when your child exhibits bad behaviour. Navigating the correction of bad manners can be particularly difficult.

Correcting bad behaviour should never be achieved through ridiculing behaviour or suppressing your child’s feelings. Below are some helpful examples to discourage bad manners.

Gently Steer Behaviour

As a parent, it is your responsibility to let your child know why their behaviour is unacceptable in an honest way that can help them to better understand the situation. Many children don’t understand that their behaviour is causing a disruption or being disrespectful.

For example, if your child is making loud noises during a conversation or interrupting frequently, you may want to get on eye level with them and gently explain:

“Linda and I are trying to have a conversation. It is difficult to have a conversation with the loud noises that you are making. Could you please stop banging on the table?”

You can also redirect their behaviour to another activity, particularly for young children.

Ask Your Child To Help Fix Their Mistakes

If your child purposefully pours out a glass of milk, hand them a towel and ask them to help you clean it up. This can help them understand that there are consequences to their actions.

Look For Underlying Causes

Your child may suddenly be exhibiting bad manners as a way of rebelling or getting attention. If their bad behaviour or bad manners are out of the ordinary for your child, this might be a good opportunity for you to take a deeper look at other things going on in their lives.

Are there problems at school? Are they having a problem with a friend? Has something recently changed at home?

These may point to the underlying cause of the bad behaviour.

Exercise, Diet, and Sleep

It’s important that our children be set up for success. Providing them with the proper nutrition, making sure that they are sleeping adequately, and giving them time, space, and activities for good exercise can drastically help improve behaviour and willingness to cooperate, including maintaining good manners.

Common Manners To Encourage

As adults, good manners are so ingrained into our daily behaviour that we often don’t even think about them.

  • Say “Please” and “Thank You”
  • Don’t interrupt when others are speaking
  • Say “Excuse Me”
  • Ask permission to use something that is not yours
  • Knock before entering
  • Cover your mouth while sneezing or coughing
  • Don’t pick your nose in public
  • If possible, hold the door open for others
  • Leave a space how you found it
  • Appropriate eating habits (this can be hard for busy parents to exhibit!)
  • Wash your hands before eating
  • Don’t throw food
  • Don’t play with food
  • Don’t chew with an open mouth
  • Always say thank you to the host
  • Be aware of other’s physical space in public
  • Saying ‘Hello’ and ‘Nice to meet you’
  • Use appropriate voices (i.e. ‘inside voice’)
  • Be considerate and polite of others
  • Be a good guest.