I don’t expect my kids — or anyone’s kids, for that matter — to have impeccable manners at all times. They’ve got years ahead of them to learn the ins and outs of etiquette, and let’s be honest, not even many adults are completely familiar with every rule of decorum. I’m not bothered by an elbow or a napkin on the table, or a statement issued through a mouthful of french fries. I’d advise against those things if we were in, say, a fancy restaurant where best behavior is expected — but at home, in a more relaxed atmosphere, it doesn’t matter quite as much.
However, there are fundamentals that every person should know, and there’s literally zero excuse for them not to instill those basic tenets in their kids. It isn’t hard to teach them (unless you yourself are one of the mannerless masses, in which case figure out your shit ASAP, please), and eventually it will become as automatic as breathing. Saying “please” and “thank you,” holding the door open or helping someone when they’re struggling, using quiet voices in quiet places, taking turns, or saying “excuse me” after a belch are all basic manners that even the littlest kids can begin to grasp.
Yes, it’s a big deal; instilling good manners in your kids is nothing short of a gift that will give them a leg up for the rest of their lives.
Between a well-mannered human and an ill-mannered oaf, who do you think is going to have an easier time dealing with people on a daily basis? The person with manners has a clear advantage. They’ll be more at ease in social situations when they know what’s expected of them. They’ll make a much better first impression. Teachers, bosses, parents, and friends appreciate someone whose public conduct is not going to cause a problem or be an embarrassment, so those people are much more likely to be hired, and promoted, and trusted, and befriended. In turn, the positive interactions they have as a result of their pleasant and polite demeanor will give their self-esteem a boost.
Equally important, teaching your kids to use their manners is sending them a valuable message. It lets them know that it goes deeper than just words, that it’s more than simply tacking a “please” onto the end of every request. It’s a lesson that we need to have respect and consideration for the people we interact with. The way we treat others has a direct impact on the way they feel, and raising discourteous assholes doesn’t do anybody any favors — least of all, the discourteous assholes themselves.
I think we can all agree we have enough of those in the world, so what can we do to prevent more?
We can start by modeling good manners ourselves, right from the start. From the time they’re infants, tell them “thank you” when they hand you something, whether it’s a block or the soggy remains of a gnawed teething biscuit. When you’re ordering at a restaurant, or leaving a playdate, model the behavior you would like them to express. Don’t force them, or that may have the opposite effect, but a gentle prompt doesn’t hurt. Don’t answer for them if someone asks them a question; give them the time and space to do it themselves first.
Should we expect flawless manners from our children? Of course not, my oldest is 12 and I still have to issue the occasional reminder. Kids forget; if they didn’t, we’d only have to say stuff like “don’t throw your socks on the floor” once. Hell, adults forget too, that’s why stories of ill-mannered jerks are always going viral. They serve as a reminder of the importance of not being a dick and extending common courtesy.
Like anything else, consistency is key, and if we keep providing a good example and the reminders they need, good manners will become second nature. It will benefit them (and everyone else they encounter) for the rest of their lives, and it doesn’t require a huge amount of effort on our part. Do everybody a favor and teach your kids how to treat people.
I mean, do everybody a favor…please.