Do you believe having manners will make your child vulnerable? Maybe you think children who are too nice will get bullied.
If so, you might be telling your kids to “fight back” or “toughen up.”
Or do you believe the school system will teach your child enough manners to get by? Somehow, you feel that he or she will “absorb” enough good behaviors to fit in. By watching others, your child will automatically know how to act on the ball field, in groups or, later, in a job setting.
However, nothing could be further from the truth. Learning good manners is a lot more complicated than copying nice responses from others.
Parents need to monitor their kids’ actions, reactions, feelings and mental health. Parents need to shepherd the emotional growth and maturity of their offspring.
Here are some tips:
- Realize that speaking and acting thoughtfully shows power. In life, your child will need to feel in control by being someone others respect. This happens when they take the high road. Teach your child to offer cooperation, kindness, and a willingness to listen.
- Teach your child that the most intelligent people do listen. Those who tell others to “shut up” or “go take a hike” are burning their bridges to other people.
- Show your child that being nice doesn’t mean ignoring a bully. Being nice means you monitor your own behavior, so you avoid making a contribution to ugliness. Teach a child that dealing with a bully, many times, will require an adult to step in. Good manners won’t fix a bully.
Every child should feel confident they are reasonably well-liked by others. Explain to them that smiling, offering to help someone, or showing empathy tells other people you are trustworthy. Others can feel safe in your presence.
“I helped my son build a circle of friends by coaching him on manners,” says a friend of ours we’ll call Sharon. “I told him to imagine how he was making others feel. I helped him develop a good sense of humor and avoid taking all remarks from other people too personally.”
We all should truly respect others. You don’t want manners to be phony or used for manipulative purposes. Hold discussions with your child about various situations as they arise.
“Teaching manners will help other people enjoy being around your child,” says a psychologist we’ll call Evelyn. “Rude children who aren’t taught anything will be in for a lifetime of pain. I have a lot of clients who can’t make relationships work, and strangely, they don’t know why.”
Teaching manners that incorporate phrases such as “thank you,” “excuse me,” “may I” and similar language makes the process of learning kindness second nature to children.
You can only teach these phrases by having your children hear you use them. They should seem natural and part of normal conversation.
Show your children how to set boundaries by using verbal phrases that aren’t overly offensive. They might say, “Hold on. I don’t appreciate you talking to me like that.” Teach them that throwing verbal rocks by saying, “Stop, you jerk. I’m gonna punch you in the face,” will wreck any chances of talking things out with someone.
Manners are like oil in relationships. Good behaviors keep everything running smoothly. Manners reduce friction between two people — whether they’ve just met or they’ve been together for years.
Judi Light Hopson is author of the stress management book, “Cooling Stress Tips.” She is also executive director of USA Wellness Café at usawellnesscafe.org. Emma Hopson is a nurse educator. Ted Hagen is a family psychologist.