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Teaching Your Kids Manners

by Mark Brandenburg MA, CPCC

“Oh thank you,” my daughter gushed, as she opened another present from the pile in front of her.

It was her tenth birthday, and she was on center stage. Gift after gift was being opened. And after each gift was opened, my daughter did a remarkable thing: She looked at each of the givers in the eye and thanked them. And as I watched this from behind my camera, a tear came to my eye.

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It was not just this show of appreciation that moved me, for there were other things happening here. There was the imminent loss of childhood, and the kindness of the relatives who sat close by. There were memories of past birthdays, and the joy and innocence they brought. And there was the suspicion that this would be the last birthday of its kind, before modern culture, peers, and hormones took their place in my daughters’ life.

But I couldn’t stop thinking about how remarkable it was to see this display of appreciation, and to feel the joy that came with it. And as I saw it, I was reminded of all the times over the years when my wife and I had insisted on “please and thank you.” I was reminded how many times we’d told her how important it was to show appreciation for the things people do for us. And while it hasn’t always been easy to be the “nag,” all of our efforts became worth it as we watched this unfold.

For those parents who’d like to help create what is becoming too rare these days—a well-mannered child--here are some guidelines:

  • Teach your kids, don’t criticize them. If they burp at the dinner table, it’s not effective to yell, “Don’t be rude!” Instead, be calm and specific about what you want them to do. Tell them, “It’s not polite to burp at the table, but if it happens, you may say “excuse me.”

  • Start them at an early age. Things like saying “please” and “thank you,” or making thank you cards to grandma can be started at a very early age.

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  • Teach them in private if possible. Kids are easily shamed if corrected in front of others, just as we are. If at all possible, take them aside and talk to them in private. This gives them a chance to learn it, and not to feel ashamed.

  • Anticipate mistakes from your child. You didn’t really think your kids were going to learn manners on their own, did you? They’ll make a ton of mistakes, and they’ll need to be corrected many times. Don’t let high expectations for your kids create impatience in you. They’ll learn it when they’re ready.

  • Prepare them for using manners in advance. When manners will be expected, as when going to a friend’s house, or to a restaurant, remind your kids of what’s expected of them. This friendly reminder will help them remember manners when they get excited, and are liable to forget.

  • Expect good manners from your child on a consistent basis. Once they’ve been taught, expect your kids to exhibit appropriate manners. Giving a lot of gentle reminders will show your kids that this isn’t going away. Eventually, they’ll be consistent on their own.

  • Be ready for mealtime. Family dinners are prime time for teaching manners. They can also be frustrating. Prepare yourself to be patient, and expect mistakes to happen. Creating a “formal” atmosphere, with low lighting and candles, is a way to make manners at dinner more fun.

    The Public Agenda Research Group (2004) reports that in this country, 8 out of 10 respondents say that lack of respect and courtesy is a serious national problem. From all the research they've gathered, it appears that Americans are more stressed out and ill-mannered than ever before! Manners seem to have gone out of style. But parents shouldn’t make the mistake of letting their kids think they’re out of style. It’s YOUR job to bring them back!

    Later that evening, my daughter was still excited from all of the festivities. “I’m going to remember my tenth birthday party forever!” she announced

    She isn’t the only one.

    Mark Brandenburg MA, CPCC, coaches fathers by phone to balance their life and improve family relationships—immediately! He is an Instructor for the Academy for Coaching Parents ( and author of “Secrets of Emotionally Intelligent Fathers” Ecourse

    Anthony Kane, MD

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