Good Manners for Kids
Good manners are the behaviors we exhibit in public and in private to show respect to ourselves and others.
As new parents, there are milestones we actively work with our kids on, so we know that they are physically developing correctly: their first smile, rolling over, grabbing, hugging, eating their first solid food, sitting up, crawling, pulling up, and walking.
If we want to raise a child with good manners, we can approach teaching manners in much the same way we do with those physical milestones. We can make a list of the good manners we want our kids to learn, set an appropriate timetable for this development, and actively work with our kids to help them hit these milestones.
Consider the Stages of Moral Growth for Teaching Manners
Just like there are stages of physical growth for kids, there are stages of moral growth. These stages can help you set expectations for the type of manners that are appropriate to teach and at which age.
Dr. Sears, a well-known author of dozens of best-selling books on parenting, describes the five stage of moral growth
of children as follows:
Stage 1 – Infancy
An infant cannot moralize, too early to start teaching manners
Stage 2 – Toddlerhood
Toddlers can’t judge right or wrong yet, they are directed by what others tell them to do
Stage 3 – Preschool (3-7 years of age)
Preschool children start to understand values and manners; they understand how their actions affect others and how actions have consequences
Stage 4 – School-Age (7 to 10 years of age)
School-age children have a strong sense of fairness, understand the necessity of rules and manners, and want to participate in making rules
Stage 5 – Pre-teens and Teens
Pre-teens and teens are capable of abstract reasoning; they start making decisions on the manners and values that make the most sense for themselves and society
Manners Milestones by Age
Once you understand what your child is mentally and emotionally capable of learning, you can set appropriate milestones for teaching the manners that are most important to you and your family.
While toddlers can’t judge right or wrong yet or understand cause and effect, they can imitate what we say and do. It is a perfect time to start introducing polite language, words like please, thank you, I’m sorry, excuse me, sir, or ma’am. We also can show toddlers the importance of a positive attitude by delivering our directions to our toddler with a smile and polite language.
Now that children are starting to understand actions have consequences, you can begin the process of teaching manners that show respect for others. Taking turns, the concept of sharing, asking permission before you do something, not interrupting, using polite greetings such as hello and goodbye, covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze, not talking with your mouth full, or asking for someone to pass something at the table rather than reaching over them are all appropriate manners to start introducing at this age.
School-age children are ready to take on larger challenges related to respect and gratitude. Teach your children to thank other adults, such as their friends’ parents, for having them over or for inviting them to a meal. Teach them to look people in the eye when speaking to them and to answer their questions politely. Teach your children to introduce themselves when they meet a new person, address others by their name, and when an adult asks them to do something, do it without grumbling. Teach them to respect the belongings and privacy of others, and to sit through presentations by others quietly, showing attentiveness.
Ask anyone who has ever had a teenager, you’ll have to reinforce the basic rules you have been teaching since toddlerhood, a lot, at this stage. Continue modeling good behavior for your teenager and reinforcing the basics of what you expect. Additionally, take advantage of opportunities to get your teen out of their comfort zone and into the community-at-large. Volunteer opportunities are a great way for your teen to gain perspective and continue to learn empathy toward others.
Good manners are the foundation of building relationships with others. We must show respect for ourselves and others if we are going to have meaningful and positive relationships with others. And ultimately, relationships with others are what Harvard Researchers
have discovered help us live longer and be happier into adulthood, something we all want for our children.