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Family Forum: The Well-Mannered Child

Etiquette tips for kids.

When the owner of a restaurant in Pennsylvania announced last week that they would no longer admit children under 6 because their “volume can’t be controlled,” my first thought was the response was outrageous.

But then I wondered: exactly how loud were those kids anyway? Since I’ve never been to their restaurant I can’t judge. My husband and I would leave a restaurant with our children if it became clear that they were disturbing others. It seems like ultimately this is an issue of etiquette, and it’s an opportune time to remind ourselves of the manners children can be expected to display in all situations.

Etiquette celebrity Letitia Baldrige says that good manners mean good human relations, the way you act around people.

“They’re about self-control and kindness to others, and common sense," she said. "Good manners are easy to figure out and they’re the quickest and easiest way to get something done. For example, if you eat properly, there’s less to clean up.”

Most of us understand that well-mannered children are more pleasant to be around. And Baldrige asserts that good manners lead to leadership positions and to getting and keeping jobs.

Further, Peggy Post, great-granddaughter-in-law of Emily Post, says that children who are taught etiquette basics also have increased confidence in their ability to handle daily situations, as well as difficult ones.

Still, for all the benefits of good manners, for most parents, the question is how to teach them. The most logical way is to keep in mind your own manners. You can’t be impolite and then teach your kids to do as you say, but not as you do.

While children should be taught good manners by parental example and with consistency, Post believes it’s also a cumulative process.

“You make it clear to your children what you expect of them and you gradually build on those expectations,” she said.

As a guideline, Post says there are certain skills children should be able to manage at each age, depending on their language and fine-motor skills.

Age two: Should be taught to say “please” and “thank you.”

Ages three-four: Should learn to be neat eaters, handle basic introductions and not interrupt.

Ages five-six: With role-playing, you can teach children how to meet adults, by looking them in the eye and shaking hands. Most children should also be able to handle a knife and fork.

Ages seven-10: They should be able to hold a conversation with an adult, though their attention spans probably won’t last for long conversations. You shouldn’t expect that, but should teach them to say, “May I be excused?” They should also know to put their napkin in their laps.

Adolescents: While some teens may buck good manners, it’s never too late for them to learn. If you’ve taught them the basic building blocks, they’ll remember the rules.

If you’re not sure what to advise your children, Baldrige says you can’t go wrong teaching them the golden rule: Treat others the way you want to be treated.

Liza N. Burby is Publisher of Long Island Parent Magazine and liparentonline.com.

Liza N. Burby July 20, 2011 at 05:10 PM
What do you find most challenging about teaching your child good etiquette? For my girls, who are relatively shy, the concept of looking an adult in the eye when you speak to them was difficult. But with practice they succeeded over time. Comes in handy for college and job interviews, as does knowing how to shake hands.
Edward Robinson July 20, 2011 at 05:19 PM
Teaching my son not to use his shirt as a napkin comes to mind. :-)
Liza N. Burby July 20, 2011 at 05:22 PM
Yes, that's a good one.
Andrew J. Hyatt July 20, 2011 at 05:35 PM
Knowing who to separate helps us! As does getting them tired first!
Liza N. Burby July 20, 2011 at 05:44 PM
True, but try getting a tired child to remember elbows off table/no talking with mouth full/etc.

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