Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Good Manners Build Connected Families

Once upon a time there was a little boy about four years old. Every time he was spoken to, but didn't hear what was said, he answered, "Pardon me?" After this occurred several times a grandpa-aged man turned to his parents and asked, "How'd you get him to do that?"

In another kingdom there was another little boy, also about four, who was invited to a friend's house for dinner. The host-mother thoughtfully made pizza, assuming that all kids like pizza. The little boy looked at it, decided he didn't like it and announced, "I'm a vegetarian." Since there was ground beef all over the pizza, the mother suggested he eat the salad and garlic bread. Using the tongs, the little boy picked a few tomatoes out of the salad and proceeded to scarf down most of the bread. The host-father said, "You aren't a vegetarian. You're a 'pick-a-tarian'!"
photo credit: Clarskston Scamp

Oh my, which boy would you be happy to claim as your own?

These are true stories where I was involved, but I won't give away any clues as to who the parents were!

Wouldn't you love your child being the one who exhibited good manners at your house and at others? It is possible. Here are some simple suggestions to make it possible at your house:

  1. Model good manners--You've heard it said that behavior is caught more than taught. So sit at the table, say please and thank-you, don't slurp, burp, or grab. Etc...etc...etc.
  2. Keep it simple--If you are starting with young children, don't make too many rules. Maybe "stay in your chair" would be a good first rule. Or perhaps you want to hear "please" more often. Start with no more than three rules and when those are mastered, move on.
  3. Make it a game--the Dobsons (as in Focus on the Family founder) used to have a "rule" that if you forgot to put your napkin on your lap you had to walk out of the room and come back and try again. Even parents! What about if you are looking for that magic word? Maybe if they ask for the bread without saying, "Please" you could pass them something else, like the pepper. Every time they ask without saying, "Please" pass the wrong thing! Do it with a smile and if they don't get it after a couple tries, give a clue about what you want them to say. What other upbeat game can you make up?
  4. Talk about it--when your kids are a little older, discuss what manners are and what they are for. Maybe look up the words manners, etiquette, deportment, and courtesy together and talk about them. Help them come to the conclusion that manners are to help everyone in the situation feel comfortable. Then ask, 
Photo credit: Pink Poppy Photography
  • "What makes you comfortable when we're at meals together?" 
  • "What makes you uncomfortable?" 
  • "What makes you comfortable or uncomfortable when eating at someone else's home?" 
  • "What do you think makes Mom/Dad/Grandma comfortable?" 
  • "How can we work together to all be comfortable when we eat together?"
Help your children come to an understanding that it's not all about their comfort, but it helps to know the mores (another good word to look up!) in a society so that in the future, they will feel comfortable in new situations.

When your mealtime is marked by people enjoying being together, eating together will be something your family will want to do. Being together is the first step in building those family connections we all long for.

For more ideas on how to teach manners and another great game we used with our kids, check out my book.


  1. I would just like to say that your kids were the best-mannered little ones I've ever met, so I'm suspecting the first four-year-old was yours! ;)

    1. Thanks, Rachel, for the vote of confidence! :-)

  2. When our adopted daughters joined our family we almost couldn't watch them eat -- their table manners were SO bad. Although they were seven and ten, they ate mostly with their hands, rubbing them on the table when they got too greasy to handle food. Both came from abusive situations so we didn't feel we should be correcting them constantly.

    What we found was that they, bit by bit, began copying the family table manners at least in part because they really wanted to fit in with their three new brothers. Not wanting to draw attention to their way of eating, we didn't praise them verbally when we saw improvement, we just quietly smiled at them for each new step they took on their own toward good manners.

    At the end of one month, our daughters had (and still have) the best table manners in the house.

    1. Wow! What an example of modeling good manners working to teach them! You did a great job of not calling public attention to their problems or advances so as not to embarrass them. Wouldn't it be great if everyone would learn that way and so quickly!



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