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Simple Mom-Tested Secrets to Raising Well-Mannered Kids

By Dr. Michele Borba
Excerpt from 12 Simple Secrets Real Moms Know: Getting Back to Basics and Raising Happy Kids by Michele Borba (Jossey-Bass Publishers, 2006)

All three of my sons attended a wonderful cooperative nursery school led by an incredibly caring teacher, Jeanette Thompson. The very first impression I had of the school was how well-mannered the children were. And, through the years as I put in my “coop” hours, I understood why her students were so polite: Mrs. Thompson never taught manners at a special time, instead she taught students manners all day long through her own example. Every sentence she ever uttered contained the word “please,” “thank you,” or “excuse me.” It was impossible for her students not to be polite. She used to always tell the moms, “Manners are caught, not taught.” Was she ever right! I also learned an important secret from my children’s teacher: The first step to teaching kids good manners is to make sure you model them yourself.

Make no mistake, Mom: Courtesy does enhance our kids’ chances of success! Scores of studies find that well-mannered children are more popular and do better in school. Notice how often they’re invited to others’ homes? Kids like to be around kids who are nice. Listen to teachers speak about them using such positive accolades. Courteous children have an edge later in life: the business world clearly tells us their first interview choices are those applicants displaying good social graces. They also get more “second” job interviews, and usually even the job. You just can’t help but react positively to people who are polite and courteous. By prioritizing polite behaviors with our children, we can enhance their social competence and give them a big boost towards success. Here are five simple secrets to enhance good social graces in your children and give them that edge for a better life.

Reward Courtesy. Good manners are among the simplest skills to teach children because they are expressed in just a few very specific behaviors. We can instantly point out good or poor manners to our kids: “Wow, nice manners! Did you notice the smile on Grandma’s face when you thanked her for dinner?” or “Eating before waiting for the others to sit down wasn’t polite,” We can modify our children’s manners: “Next time, remember to say ‘Excuse Me’ when you walk in front of someone.” And we can always tune them up: “Before you ask for the dish, say “Please.”

Point Out the Value of Manners. Discuss with your children the value of good manners. You might say, “Using good manners helps you gain the respect of others. It’s also a great way to meet new friends. Polite people just make the world a kinder place.” Once kids understand the impact good manners have on others, they’re more likely to incorporate courtesy in their own behavior.

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Teach A Manner A Week. When my children were young I taught them a jingle, “Hearts, like doors, will open with ease, if you learn to use these keys.” We’d then print a manner a week on a large paper key and tape it on our kitchen door as a reminder. Every child in the neighborhood could recite not only our jingle, but name the manners that are the “keys to opening hearts.” It helped me recognize “catching new manners” doesn’t happen overnight: it takes consistency and effort to enhance them in our kids. So, how about teaching a “Manner a Week?” Write the manner on an index card, post it on your refrigerator, and then hold a contest to see how many times family members hear another member use the word. Here’s a few to get you started: “Please., Thank you., May I?, Excuse me, I’m sorry., Pardon me., I’m glad to meet you,, You go first., and May I introduce....?”

Correct Impoliteness Immediately. When your child uses an impolite comment, immediately correct the behavior by using the three “Bs” of discipline: “Be Brief, Be Private so no one but you and your child is aware you’re correcting your child, and Be Specific.” Here’s how two parents used the three “Bs”: Juan’s mom waited for a private moment to point out his poor manners to him, “Starting your dinner without waiting first for Grandma to sit down, was impolite. Being polite means always respecting older people.” Waiting for the right time when only Juan could hear his mom’s correction, preserved his dignity but still let him know his behavior was unacceptable. When Kevin used a racist comment, his father immediately used the three Bs letting him know it was unacceptable: “That was a bigoted comment and could hurt someone’s feelings. Please, don’t ever use that word again.”

Practice Table Manners. A friend of mine who really wanted to make sure her children “caught good manners” started a unique family tradition: Once a month, she asks her children to help her plan a party. The children plan the menu, set their table--with only their “company dishes”--arrange a centerpiece of hand-picked flowers, and then sit in their “Sunday best.” The party is just for their family, and it’s the time my friend helps her children practice table manners such as “please pass,” “thank you,” “May I be excused?” (as well keeping your napkin on your lap, chewing with your mouth closed, waiting for others to speak, and learning which fork to use with each course). Yes, it takes a lot of work, but she swears it’s worth it, especially when so many people comment on how well-behaved her children are.

A recent survey conducted by US News & World Report found nine out of ten Americans felt the breakdown of common courtesy has become a serious problem in this country. A huge seventy-eight percent of those polled said manners and good social graces have significantly eroded over past ten years, and is a major contributor to the breakdown of our values in this country. What a sad commentary! Using good manners will enhance your child’s reputation in all arenas—home, school, and the community. Besides, kids like to be around other kids who are courteous and nice. So start boosting your child’s social graces by using these simple secrets in your family.

© Michele Borba, Ed.D.
Michele Borba, Ed.D., is an internationally renowned educator, motivational speaker, and award-winning author. She is the recipient of the National Educator award and serves on the honorary advisor board of Parents magazine and appears frequent guest on talk shows such as the Today show, The View, Fox & Friends, MSNBC, and NPR and in print including: Newsweek, Redbook, U.S. News & World Report. Michele is the author of "Parents Do Make a Difference, Building Moral Intelligence and No More Misbehavin'" (Jossey-Bass). Her proposal to end school violence was passed in California law in 2003:SB1667). Visit Michele at Author of "Don't Give Me That Attitude! 24 Rude, Selfish, Insensitive Things Kids Do and How to Stop Them".


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