Every mother has been there: You’re at a social event with your kid, and you can’t help but notice their mediocre manners. Elbows on the tables, forgetting to say please and thank you, wiping their messy mouth with their sleeve. It’s OK to admit that, in those moments, some embarrassment takes over. You’ve been so busy teaching and providing other basic necessities amid a busy schedule that you didn’t have time to think about how to teach kids etiquette. However, as parents and as caregivers, helping our kids develop strong social skills is one of the most important jobs we have — and that includes teaching them how to interact and respond respectfully and kindly in everyday situations.
So, spoiler alert, when it comes to teaching your kids etiquette, there’s more to it than “minding your Ps & Qs.” The key to mastering how to teach kids etiquette is starting early and being consistent.
How to Teach Kids Etiquette
When it comes to teaching kids etiquette, it’s best to adopt and practice the philosophy of “monkey see, monkey do.” Children tend to learn through example. So if you’re in the habit of practicing good etiquette, chances are they will follow suit. Here are some things to keep in mind.
- Use polite language as much as possible. Hey, no one’s perfect. But using polite language in front of your kids as much as possible in a variety of situations will help them remember and identify when to use it themselves. It will allow them to see how natural it is to say to one another. What qualifies as polite language will vary from family to family. But a few examples might be saying please, thank you, excuse me, and you’re welcome.
- Watch your judgment and criticism. Being aware of how you communicate with others, including whether you openly judge and criticize another, will set an example for your kids. For example, you might not love your best friend’s outfit, but you certainly don’t have to tell her how much you hate it to her face. The same might go for a gift that you receive that you don’t particularly like. It’s the age-old “think before speaking.” And setting that example for your kids — while also gently reminding them of the same — will help prepare them to deal with life more respectfully.
- Practice greeting people. How we welcome and greet one another is a vital social skill to learn. Using eye contact and saying someone’s name upon meeting is a solid place to start when you practice this with your little one. For example, when they meet their teacher for the first time, you might want to remind them to look their teacher in their eyes and say, “Hello, Ms. Smith.” Give your child a chance to use their politeness on others. Take them to a restaurant or library where interacting with others is part of the experience. Before you enter the building, remind them of their manners and pay attention to the ones they use. Throughout the day, compliment their behavior.
- Praise your child when they use their manners. Kids love reassurance and support. So, to get their manners to stick, tell them when they’re doing a good job. Let kids know their efforts are seen and give them a pat on the back. This will remind them of the importance of being polite to others and how good it feels. For small children, praise them right away, but if your kid is on the shy side, give them props in private.
Table Manners for Kids
Every meal can serve as an opportunity for your kids to learn basic table manners. From using their utensils properly to waiting until everyone has been served, it’s a practical way for kids to learn how to be respectful and mindful of others. Here are some tips for teaching basic table manners to your kids.
- Come to the table with clean hands and mouth. Make it a habit that washing up is a must before eating any meal. It’s not only polite but an important hygienic lesson — especially in COVID/post-COVID times.
- Wait to eat until everyone is served. While this might be the hardest lesson for kids, it’s such a good habit for them to adopt. Learning that eating a meal is meant to be enjoyed together is both kind and respectful.
- Chew with your mouth closed. An obvious one but not for kiddies! Gently remind your kids to chew with their mouths closed by showing them how it’s done.
- Use utensils and a napkin. OK, maybe this is the hardest one for kids to learn. We all know kids love to play with their food. But as they grow up, they should learn how to use utensils properly — and gently wipe their mouths with a napkin. Plus, it’ll make less clean-up for mom!
Teaching Manners Activities
You can also make learning etiquette fun by teaching manners through a variety of fun activities. A few ideas might include:
- Creating and sending out thank you notes. You could do this after your child receives a holiday or birthday gift.
- Have a manners dinner party contest. What the heck is this? Well, it’s where everyone is on their best polite behavior and must say “please” and “thank you” while abiding by other basic table etiquette. Whoever breaks an etiquette “rule,” loses. The last polite person left standing is the winner.
- Create a manners chart. Have your child create a manners chart to put on the fridge that they can look at and check regularly.
How to Teach Kids Phone Etiquette
Sometimes your little one gets to the phone before you do, so it’s important they know how to be polite when taking a call.
- Tell them to answer the phone with, “Hello, this is (their name).” This will prevent them from saying “What?!” or “Yeah?”
- When they are the caller, tell them to start with, “Hello, my name (their name)” and then “May I please speak with (the person they want to speak with.)”
- If no one answers the phone, leave a message. Remind your children to speak slowly and leave their name, phone number, and the reason for their call.
- Avoid yelling into the phone. Tell your child if they need you, leave the phone and get you or bring it to you.
- Remind your kids never to tell anyone on the phone private information like their address or who is home.
- When answering the phone, refer to adults as Mr., Mrs., ma’am, sir.
- It’s also important to set a good example for children during your own phone conversations by following the rules above.
- Try to answer the phone after a few rings.
- If the noise in the room is loud, tell your kiddo to take the conversation to another room. If the phone is handheld, tell them to carry the phone into a quieter space. If they can, tell them to hold off answering the phone until they’re in a calmer location.
- Avoid using speakerphone unless all parties are aware.
Etiquette Classes for Kids
If you think your kids require a bit more help in the etiquette department, then there are several etiquette classes available to help them learn basic manners. We recommend Charleston School of Protocol or Smart Kids 101 to get you started.