Saturday, October 10, 2009

On Teaching Manners to Children

Parents cannot endow their children with beauty or brains, but, with patience, they can assure the personal grace and ease that stem from beautiful manners. Attractive behavior and all that it implies-- courtesy, poise, consideration--can outlive beauty and enhance brains.

While many people spend large sums of many to have their children's teeth straightened and a small fortune to have their brains developed, the inculcating of manners represents an investment of a different, more personal, and sometimes more difficult, sort. It requires not only the patience for years of persistent training, but the patience to be a continuous example oneself, the patience to be consistent, day in and day out. One cannot expect a child automatically to say "Excuse me" when he bumps into someone on the street, if it has never occurred to his mother to say "Excuse me" to him when she bumps into him in the house. Nor is he likely to listen to his mother if she habitually ignores him when he tries to talk to her....A child needs constant, gentle reminders and explanations, but if he is treated with respect and courtesy, he will absorb much of these qualities by osmosis....

If a child is not pushed too hard or nagged, if you do not expect behavior of him that is beyond the capabilities at his age, his natural urge to act like an adult and to earn your approval will lead him, sooner or later, to want to learn good manners. But a child who is put under too many pressures may rebel and develop a mental block that is almost impossible to overcome.

If a child is going to be in a social situation, you should try to explain to him beforehand what you expect of him. If he does not live up to your expectations, you should not humiliate him by correcting him in public. When you are alone, ask him why he behaved as he did, and tell him it was not a grownup way to act and that you hope he will do differently the next time. If a child is tired or upset, however, or if an occasion is simply too exciting or too confusing for him to remember his manners, too much should not be expected of him.

~ Vogue's Book of Etiquette and Good Manners (1969)


Juliana said...

This is very good advice. I worry that my husband's and my expectations for our son are too much for his age. For example, he will be 3 in August and we have been reminding him to say "please" when asking for something. Now, my husband is telling him that if he doesn't say please the first time he won't get what he is asking for (before we would prompt him if he didn't say please and then once he said it, we would let him have what he was requesting). He is I don't know if that is too much to ask for a child who isn't even 3. But, I don't want to set the bar too low, either. May I ask your opinion on this?

One other obstacle for us is that our son is in daycare 3 days per week and although it's a Christian daycare, we are not with him for almost 9 hours a day, 3 days per week.

My husband and I have been working on saying "please" and "thank you" with each other. We were married for 7 years before Declan came along, so we got a little lazy in our manners with each other! As Mrs. Fenwick pointed out, we need to say "Excuse me" with each other (and with our son) if we expect him to say it.

Thank you for another enlightening post!

God Bless,

elena maria vidal said...

Thank you, dear Juliana. It sounds like your son is too little to expect him to say "thank you" consistently. He will get it eventually. When you give him something, just say: "Thank you, Mommy!" for him and soon he will be saying it. With some children it clicks earlier than with others. One little girl I know is almost four and she is just now starting to say "please" and "thank you."

Juliana said...

Thank you for your advice, EMV!

elena maria vidal said...

You're welcome, dear!

alaughland said...

My daughter, who is a veyr wise woman, once said it was her theory that if our society practiced better social behavior, otherwise known as etiquette, there would be fewer instances of physical violence exhibited among one another.

R J said...

A great piece from Vogue.

I think that there might well be something in alaughland's theory. After all, look at Japan.

There you have 128 million people crammed into a territory about the size of Massachusetts. You would think that so densely populated a place would be like a madhouse to live in.

But do the Japanese have huge rates of physically violent crime? No they do not.

Their rates are a joke by present-day American, let alone present-day British, standards. This is at least partly because Japanese society, whatever its faults, has and has always had an elaborate system of etiquette to cover all possible and most impossible situations.

mercifuljuliana said...

I was surprised to see my comment from 2 years ago in this post. :-) We followed your advice, EMV. Our son, Declan, just turned 5 this past August and we are often told what good manners he has!

God Bless,