These words are hard to come by in the twenty-first century. Have you held a door for a stranger recently? How did that go?
When it comes to small kids, they learn by rote. If you have ever heard a two-year-old count to 10, then you know the idea of each number being its own separate thing from the other nine numbers is a lost concept. It’s the same thing with manners — the meaning of those words isn’t always inherently understood, but they can learn to use them appropriately, for the most part.
Maybe I am old-fashioned, but I think that by teaching my children manners, even before they fully understand them, that I’m laying groundwork for a future where they show others respect, and are respectable. What’s more, I feel that because my family is unconventional in many ways, (we are multi-racial, pierced, tattooed, and can sometimes be seen wearing fur suits in public), that it’s even more important to observe conventional manners and etiquette. My reasoning may be flawed, but my family has to work hard for respect sometimes, because we are different. Manners, in my opinion, are a great way to show people that you plan on treating them decently and that you also expect to be treated decently.
The challenge is teaching these seemingly meaningless words and phrases to a child before he or she can fully grasp the concept; how do I instill the habit of saying “thank you” in my kids? In my day, we were not allowed to get what we asked for until we said please. Things were taken out of our hands if we forgot a thank-you. I remember my mom pinching me under my arm, discreetly, until I said “Sorry” to my little brother.
Eventually I did learn the meanings and purposes, but as a kid I was bent out of shape about being made to say words when often, I wasn’t sorry. My two-year-old, on the other hand, says “please,” “thank-you,” “no, thank-you,” and “I’m sorry,” and occasionally, “excuse me.” She uses these phrases appropriately, without prompting, bribery, cajoling, or arm pinches. I’m pretty proud, but I can’t take all the credit. She did a lot of it all on her own — she is just that kind of kiddo. Still, I think I have an idea of how she came to learn this stuff, and, how other kids can too:
*Start by making a conscious effort to use manners with the people in your child’s home.
Your partner, their siblings, the people you speak to on the phone, your extended family, and your friends. Instead of “Hon, get me a beer, ‘k?” make an effort to lead by example and say “Hon, can I please have a beer?” Just like the idea that infants and toddlers are ready to learn a second language through immersion, they can learn manners through immersion too.
*Use manners with your children.
I’m not saying ask your kids permission. You are still the parent, but you can still say please! “Please help me put on your socks. Please be gentle with the kitty,” etc. Say “I’m sorry that happened to you,” when they bite their tongue or miscalculate the edge of the couch. When you need them to scoot, say “excuse me.” When you don’t want them to put crayons in your mouth, say “no, thank-you.”
*When they remember their manners, show them that you appreciate it.
I don’t mean stickers or gummy bears, just “I heard you say thank-you to Joey. I liked that.”
It may not work for all families or all children, and it may or may not work better than demanding manners and forcing thank-you. I don’t know. I just know it’s working for my child, for now.