“I want that!” This was a common phrase from Tara a few months ago. I heard it when she wanted anything. There certainly isn’t anything wrong with expressing a desire for something, but I knew that I wanted to teach my children more than simply expressing desires. I want to teach my children how to respectfully and humbly express their desires. I desire to see them develop a thankful heart. I realized that teaching good manners is going to involve more than just “please” and “thank you.”
If my role as a mother is to help my children treasure God and understand the work that Christ did on the cross for us, it should under gird all of my teaching and training. Why bother with teaching good manners? I believe that in addition to the fact that it is much more pleasant to hear a polite request and thankful response, it teaches respect toward others (Philippians 2:3, Colossians 4:6a) and helps cultivate a thankful, humble heart (1 Thessalonians 5:18, Colossians 3:17).
Ultimately, if my children understand the concept of thankfulness, when they are old enough to grasp the work that Christ did for them on the cross, their response with the help of the Holy Spirit can be thankfulness and praise to Him (Psalm 118:21).
I love Webster’s 1828 Dictionary. In it, he defines “thankfulness” as “grateful; impressed with a sense of kindness received, and ready to acknowledge it.” I want my children to be impressed by the loving sacrifice of Christ’s death on the cross and be ready to acknowledge it! So, this is the foundation of why teaching good manners is important to me.
So how to do you go about teaching good manners?
Before I go on, I want to remind you that every family will choose to do things differently. I am sharing my own experiences of how we have chosen to go about teaching good manners. Please don’t hear me communicate that this is the one-and-only right way to do it. You might have better, more effective ideas! (If so, leave a comment below so I can learn!)
First, have a long term perspective.
Try to envision your children as mature teenagers and adults. What do you hope to see and hear from them? How would you like them to interact with other people? It is also important to think long-term because teaching good manners will not be a quick process. It will take time and repetition.
Secondly, choose what is important to you.
Talk it over with your husband. Will you teach your children to say “Yes, Ma’am” and “Yes, Sir?” Think about different table manners you’d like them to develop. Is placing a napkin on the lap important to you? (We are still working on teaching Tara that the proper use of a napkin is not to ball it up and shove it in her mouth for entertainment.) What about when adults (or other children) approach your child and greet him. How would you like for him to respond? Tara is shy and has often turned away when an adult, particularly a man will talk to her. She is still young, so I believe dealing with shyness will be a little easier later, but I still wanted to teach her to be polite. We have been working on looking at the person talking to her and responding with, “Good, thank you” when she is asked “Hi Tara! How are you?” We don’t have 100% success yet, but we are making progress.
Thirdly, have fun!
If there is an area that is taking longer to click, get creative in how you teach! Try setting up different stations in your family room. At one, have a tea party and use bad manners yourself when asking for something. After you do, ask your child if that is the “polite” way to ask for something. If she says no, ask her to help you remember the correct way to ask. (If you have boys, try playing with their cars or trucks. Demonstrate rude behavior and ask them for help correcting it). Have your child teach her dolls or stuffed animals. I have found that Tara enjoys doing. I tend to learn the best this way also.
Fourth, practice, practice, practice AND be patient!
Remember that your child won’t develop good manners overnight. It is ingrained in their nature to make demands without a heart of thankfulness. With time, a patient instructor, and practice, they will catch on. Just this week, we have noticed a sudden shift in Tara’s use of good manners. It is finally starting to become second nature. She still needs reminders sometimes, but overall, we are noticing great improvement! It is such a blessing to the ears to hear, “Mommy, may I please…”
So, hang in there, mom! Teaching good manners is a process and it’s not always easy! If you are consistent, I am confident that you will reap great rewards with time.
Do you have creative ideas to offer other moms who are teaching good manners to their children?