Using Manners at Home, School and Beyond
When Brigitte West’s teenage son and daughter need their teachers to help them with school assignments, she hopes they are using their manners.
“In the age of texting and e-mails, we have less face-to-face interaction with one another,” she says. “But I tell my kids that saying ‘please’ is part of good communication with teachers and making sure that they are available to you. Teachers still value that. There is no substitution for good manners.”
Parents and teachers frequently remind kids to use the magic words: “please” and “thank you,” which have the capacity to express respect, gratitude and kindness all at once. Here are some everyday situations in which moms and dads can encourage their children to use these imperative courtesies.
Manners have always been a priority in West’s family. In fact, when her children were in elementary school, she had them enrolled in classes with Luci Bell, a certified etiquette consultant with Social Graces of San Antonio.
“Saying ‘thank you’ became a matter of course, instead of something I had to remind them about,” West says. “They would come home from their classes and tell me about manners that I had forgotten. For once, they got to be the teacher instead of the student.”
Though etiquette lessons can encourage politeness, parents are the most effective models of respectful speech, according to Bell, who gives etiquette instruction to kids ages 6 and older. She says parents can set a positive tone and perhaps get better results by saying “please” when asking their children to do tasks such as homework, setting the table and taking out the trash.
“Whatever is modeled at home can probably be expected of children when they are elsewhere,” she says. “If parents remember to use the magic words of ‘please’ and ‘thank you,’ their children will use them in public.”
The Power of ‘May’
Regardless of their age, kids constantly ask their parents for things – from snacks to driving privileges. Combining “please” with “may” makes the request easier to hear, Bell says.
“When you use ‘may,’ you really are asking for permission,” she says. “Maybe the word is old school, but it’s a nice way to ask someone for something, and it’s correct English.”
Sharing between siblings presents a plethora of opportunities for manners.
“If they share a room, bathroom, books or iPad, they can ask, ‘May I please have a turn after you?’ instead of saying, ‘Give it to me,’ or ‘I had it first,’” Bell explains. “A few words change it from an ugly command to a nice request.”
Birthday Party Politeness
In the excitement of a birthday party, decorum isn’t exactly at the top of kids’ minds, so they may need reminding about what to say to peers and adults. Waiting in line to play a game, jump in the bounce house or use the swing present a few examples of when girls and boys should ask, “May I please have a turn?” Bell says.
And before it’s time for kiddos to open presents, moms and dads should admonish them to graciously thank the person who gave the gift.
“Children should make eye contact with the person they are thanking and have a smile on their face to show that they appreciate what’s been given to them, even if it’s not their favorite gift,” she says.
At the end of the party, there should be plenty of “thank yous” to go around, she adds.
“The child attending the party should thank his friend and his friend’s parents for inviting him, but it’s also important for the birthday child to say, ‘Thank you for the present and for coming to my party,’” she says.
Gratitude and Dining Decorum
Boosting kids’ confidence in their etiquette abilities enables them to increase their use of manners, according to Shelley Jones, an instructor with Jon D. Williams Cotillions, which teaches social skills and dance education to children in the 4th through 7th grades.
“Confidence is the big, overarching concept in everything we instruct, from how to introduce yourself, to showing respect to the server at your table to how to dine at the table,” she says.
However, the popularity of social media and the high expectations of tweens and teens make it challenging for grown-ups to convey to them the importance of polite words, Jones says.
“With kids doing text messaging and e-mail, saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ is a dying art among these age groups,” she says. “Kids today expect a lot, so they need to learn to express a sense of appreciation, for example by replacing ‘I need it’ with ‘Would you please hand it to me?’”
At the dining table, respect and character are demonstrated by saying, “please” and “thank you” to the people serving the food, whether it’s mom, dad or a waiter, Jones says.
“Starting these lessons when kids are young helps them to build the foundation of respect,” she says. “It’s like teaching them to ride a bicycle. You hope it’s a lesson that sticks with them.”
Lisa Y. Taylor is a San Antonio freelance writer and mother of three daughters.