When I told my husband, Tobi, that I’d be writing a blog about courtesy and good manners he immediately said, “I’m not reading that, I hear you talk about it every day”, and he’s right. I’m a stickler about manners; table manners, physical manners, manners with communication showing respect for your elders, neighbors and friends and being a courteous person. All three of our children know this all too well.
When I was younger, my mother was adamant about table manners. If we chewed with our mouths open during dinner then we would sit on our hands for the remainder of the meal and observe the manners of others. We were allowed to eat after everyone else finished, but she wouldn’t force people at the table to be subjected to our bad manners if we were unable to behave after being warned. At the time I thought it was cruel and unusual punishment but as an adult, attending dinners for business, I have been grateful. But please . . . don’t tell my mother I said so.
I’m not quite as strict about table manners, but I regularly say, “Is your nose stopped up?” when I see or hear open-mouth chewing. In our house, it is only acceptable to chew with your mouth open when you cannot breathe out of your nose and you may be unable to breathe otherwise. This basic question has become such a regular occurrence that I no longer have to tell them why I’m asking. I get an immediate apologetic look, and the “see food” at the table ends. It’s a parenting win!
When Libby was young, we began manners simply by calling others by a respectable name, Ms., Mrs. or Mr. (insert first name here). As she got older, we added more expectations when it was age appropriate. We put our napkin in our lap. We say "excuse me" after accidental “gas leaks." We hold the door open for others. We respect our elders. We use utensils, without scraping our plate or our teeth, instead of fingers. We use good manners in stores and at restaurants: no screaming, no whining, no tantrums and we are kind to our waiter/waitress. We talk about making good choices and the consequences of rude behavior.
We expected Libby to say please and thank you with her requests and to answer with "ma’am" or "sir" after her yes or no responses. She caught on quickly to the difference between respectful and rude behavior and garnered attention from nearby ears when we were in public. Libby was delighted in the positive feedback she received from being so polite and she continued on her own. I was always surprised by how many people were listening to our conversations and how freely they offered their feedback of how I parented and how she behaved.
When our family became blended, and we added two wonderful little boys, the expectations continued, and they gladly complied as they loved the attention received for a job well done. Children who have good manners get to make their own choices in every day tasks and they love “being big” and deciding things on their own! Our children (Libby, Brady and Colin), have become so familiar with the expectations that when they ask for something and forget their manners we just wait until they realize what they forgot and they try again without being asked. “I want milk” is ignored and within seconds it is followed up by, “May I please have milk?" We are attempting to raise productive, caring and respectful adults and our most important job is to teach them the results of their actions so they will know how to make their own good choices.
Another area where we have been consistent since the children were young was with manners in public. If we are in a store and the children ask us to buy them something, they will be told "no." If they ask for nothing and maintain good behavior throughout the entire trip, we may talk about getting something special at the checkout. It is a rare occurrence, but getting something not on the list at the store is understood to be a special occasion.
Teaching the children good manners isn’t an easy task. Some days are better than others, and everyone has the occasional bad day, but the most important thing is to be consistent. Our hope in enforcing, teaching and expecting courteous behavior and good manners is that our kids will know what to do even when we aren’t there to provide guidance. We believe that all children are good and can do their personal best if they just know why they should put forth the effort.