Written by: Cally Worden
Maybe I’m just old-fashioned but I think manners are important. Polite behaviour commands and demonstrates respect in equal measure, and I want my kids to grow up into decent adults who understand the value of that. But it can be difficult to work out which manners are appropriate at which age, so here is your Working Parent guide on why teaching manners is so important, and how to help them adopt polite behaviours as a default rather than an exception.
Ages 1-2 – Toddlerhood
Your average toddler has no social graces whatsoever, but that doesn’t mean you can’t start introducing manners into their world. Good manners are mostly about being considerate and thoughtful towards others, and from about 18 months onwards young children can begin to understand this.
Simple things like acknowledging the presence of others by saying ‘Hello’ and ‘Goodbye’ can easily be taught at this age, and set the scene for the future. Similarly, those magic words ‘Please’ and ‘Thank you’ can be introduced now. Your toddler won’t really understand the true meaning yet, but forming the habit now will make your life easier later. And encouraging your child to sit for short spells during mealtimes will start to make them aware of eating etiquette.
Ages 3-4 – PreSchool Delight
Little children love to act like bigger kids, so seize this opportunity to focus on good, polite behaviours and encourage them to mimic these wherever possible. Sitting still at the table, not throwing food, starting to use utensils properly, using a napkin, and so on are all skills you can introduce now. Don’t bombard you poor child with too many things at once, and cut them some slack, they ARE only preschoolers! The point is to make manners a part of everyday life, so they become a habit for your child.
This is the time to show your child how to expand on the simple one word manners you introduced in toddlerhood. Learning to say ‘Excuse me’ when they break wind or burp is a useful tool to give them, as is learning how to politely ask for a drink at a friend’s house ‘Please may I …’, and to show appreciation – ‘Thank you for having me’. As they socialise more, preschool children also need to learn good manners when playing. Sharing toys, not hitting and grabbing, and learning to apologise when they have done something wrong are all useful exercises at this age.
Ages 5-6 – Infant School Know-How
As your child enters school they will be exposed to a whole raft of other behaviours from other kids, not all of them pleasant. If your little angel starts to adopt some of these less savoury actions it is important to explain why they are not appropriate, and give your child alternative things to try. Practicing meeting new people politely will give your child confidence at this age too. A good trick is to ask your child to go and check the colour of a person’s eyes – this necessitates them acquiring the attention of the person, and engaging in eye contact, both good confidence-boosting skills.
Learning to listen well to the teacher is a key skill to learn at this age, and you can encourage this by showing your child how to listen actively through maintaining eye contact, nodding and being prepared to ask questions. Kids of this age are often full of excitement about the world, and this is also the perfect time to help them understand when it is appropriate to interrupt (and how to do so politely), and how to wait their turn.
Ages 7-8 – Junior School
By this age, children have a far more sophisticated understanding of the world around them, and are better equipped to read the feelings of others. Developing empathy and concern for the well being of other people is important, and junior school children enjoy testing their newfound insight by making and breaking friends, and engaging in far more group activities than before. Learning how to behave gracefully and respectfully in these scenarios is best achieved via trial and error, and subsequent dialogue with you to help them understand the reactions of their peers in certain situations.
Other etiquette skills that can be acquired at this age are telephone skills – learning how to answer appropriately, to enquire who is calling and what they want, and if necessary being ready to take a message. These are skills your child will take with them through life, and learning them now offers a fantastic injection of confidence to a little person in a very big world. The table manners battle continues at this age (and beyond!) too, and a diligent parent should not let up until their child can reliably eat politely.
9 and Beyond …
If you have worked on the whole manners thing from an early age, by the time your child reaches 8 or 9 they should be a charming individual who knows how to navigate their way through life without resorting to rudeness or bullying behaviours. Most of the time anyway!
Manners instil confidence in your child, and make you proud as a parent. It’s about more than right or wrong. And it’s definitely not about verbally beating your child into a gelatinous mass in case they put a polite foot wrong – all kids forge their manners from time to time, and that’s absolutely okay. What matters is that they know HOW to behave – if they then choose not to, or forget now and again, they will learn the consequences of their actions in their own time. And you can stand beside them to give them a hug when they need it, secure in the knowledge you have done your best to prepare them for a successful life.