An Etiquette Expert Shares How to Encourage Good Manners

While obviously, we know comparing your child to others is an absolute no-no for optimal self-esteem—not only theirs but your own—it’s hard not to be just a little smitten by children who express good manners. That being said, seeing it is one thing—encouraging your child to have good manners is another.

Now, we’re not trying to suggest you need to change anything about your child or your parenting style. However, if from a place of inspiration, you’re starting to think it’d be nice to encourage a good manner or two for your child’s growth and well-being, then please, you’re welcome to start here! 

Good manners are more than you might think they are. Sure, it’s learning to say ‘excuse me’ or wait your turn, but it’s also learning to be honest and to speak up for yourself. To encourage good manners in your child is to set them up for success—now and into their future. It starts at home and in school and broadens to their future careers and other pursuits. How they learn to carry themselves and treat others can impact their ability to thrive, feel joy, and form lasting relationships. 

When you think about it, what kid feels good being repeatedly scolded or punished for something that likely, in some way, links back to an undesirable manner? We’re here to try to remedy that. At least to some extent! We’ve researched and spoken with an expert on how to encourage good manners with your child, boiling it down to 10+ easy tips that you can begin trying as soon as today. Read on to learn more!

Why do good manners matter?

We had the pleasure of speaking with Elaine Swann, who has over 20 years of experience enriching the lives of individuals across all ages in everything etiquette, social skills, and presenting the best version of yourself. She has been featured across major media platforms and publications and is trusted by prestigious businesses and universities worldwide. When we asked Ms. Swann why cultivating good manners matters, her answer was two-fold—from the point of view of the parent and the point of view of the child.

Elaine Swann

Founder and CEO of The Swann School of Protocol, the first-ever Black and female-owned etiquette licensing program.

“What we want to do as parents is prepare our child to be an asset to society and to our community,” Ms. Swann said. “It’s not something that comes later in life, and it’s not something that you assign and somehow it comes about. It really is a lifestyle you take up from their youth… this is what helps them [grow and] show up in the world as a full-fledged adult and responsible citizen,” she continued. Basically, by consciously encouraging good manners in your child, you’re ensuring that they receive enough exposure and practice to support their prosperity in the world going on around them.

From your child’s perspective, Ms. Swann noted that having good manners “makes their world easier to cope with.” She pointed out, “If you’re doing something that’s upsetting somebody else—if you’re not telling the truth to mom and dad, if you’re being disrespectful—there are consequences. For a little one, rather than dealing with the consequences… life is easy peasy.” In other words, children actually feel better when they’re behaving in agreeable ways. 

Overall, Ms. Swann emphasized that good manners strengthen a child’s social skills, increase their emotional intelligence, and open up opportunities for future success. “Helping them understand how their behaviors and actions can impact other people, that’s one of the best portions of their foundation for us to lay,” she encourages. It’s common to focus on how our children learn about emotions and build empathy. Integrating these skills with their relationship to good manners can help them understand some of the more subtle ways their everyday behaviors affect both how they feel and how they make others feel. 

encourage good manners
Source: @occasionally_perfect

What are considered ‘good manners’?

Ask a handful of different people, and they’ll probably have somewhat of a different take on what they are. Your perspective and how you were raised influence what you believe are ‘good’ standards of behavior. At the same time, surely there are a few most of us can agree on, like respect. 

When asked what she believes the most important manners for kids are today, Ms. Swann immediately answered, “Showing respect toward others.” Respect is one of three “core values” that she revolves her etiquette education around. The other two are consideration and honesty. Taken together, helping children develop an intimate understanding of these core values brings their higher selves to light. By committing to respecting others, being considerate of their thoughts and feelings, and telling the truth, they’re covering their bases for saying and doing things that will impact people and situations in positive ways.  

To encourage good manners, start with ‘core values’

Moreover, starting with designated core values can help the abundance of other good manners you might choose to work on fall into place. For instance, waiting their turn or not name calling falls under respect and consideration; telling the truth about if they did their homework or behaved at a friend’s house falls under all three. Whatever you decide—focusing on a couple of core values or just diving right into more specific good manners—here’s an assortment of ideas to get you started:

  • Being helpful (around the house, on errands, in the classroom, toward family/friends, etc.) 
  • Giving compliments to others
  • Making eye contact
  • Sharing with others
  • Taking turns (speaking, with toys, etc.)
  • Not interrupting others
  • Using a noise-level-appropriate voice
  • Respecting others, especially elders
  • Waiting their turn
  • Telling the truth when asked a question
  • Saying ‘Excuse me’
  • Not talking back or giving attitude 
  • Speaking up for themself in a respectful way
  • Not name-calling or teasing
  • Holding the door for others
  • Clearing the table
  • Having patience
  • Saying ‘Please’ and ‘Thank you’
  • Asking permission (before taking something, doing something, etc.) 
  • Not pointing or staring at people
  • Asking ‘How are you?’
  • Greeting people politely 
  • Chewing with their mouth closed

Tips to encourage good manners

1. Get clear on which manners you’d like to encourage

While it’d be wonderful if kids behaved in every way we hope for, the truth is kids will be kids. (Hey, it’s not like we adults always behave exactly as intended, either!) With that in mind, it’s important to clarify exactly which manners you’d like to see your child practice. Of course, whatever you choose will depend on where your child is at developmentally. However, any manners you feel are worthwhile can still be modeled for them ahead of time! 

Once you’ve identified the manners that do have potential and that you’d like to start working on now, consider how you can introduce them in a manageable way. For example, if you’re aiming for a handful, it might not make sense to try to work on them all at once. You also might want to consider how “hard” or “easy” a manner seems and start on the easier side. Essentially, begin presenting your manners of focus however you feel sets them up for success. Here are some hands-on ideas for doing so!    

2. Be explicit about which manners you’re working on together

Unless you explicitly teach your child which manners you’re hoping they do, how are they going to get a confident handle on them? You’ll be able to go about them in more natural ways going forward. But, it could leave room for confusion if you try to initiate them without a proper set-up. 

Find a time when your child is at their most relaxed and receptive. Then, decide upon the best approach for opening up a conversation about good manners together. You can explore what they are, why they matter, where they pop up, etc. Your child’s age, temperament, and the kinds of behaviors you’ve observed in them can guide your conversation as well. They could already be quite aware of what good manners are, or it might be a relatively fresh concept. Through these very conversations, your child might surprise you by having their own ideas about which manners they feel most inspired to work on!         

3. Model the manners in a genuine way

This may be the most obvious of the bunch, but let’s remember just how memorable our behaviors are to children. There’s a reason they’re so quick to repeat back what you’ve said when you’ve accidentally shouted a swear word with animation. It’s a novel event, and they’re paying attention. When it comes to good manners, this is an opportunity to become aware of just how often and consistently you do them yourself. 

You don’t have to exaggerate or be fake about modeling them to do so effectively. In fact, kids are so perceptive that they’ll likely see through that. Instead, reflect on typical scenarios in your day-to-day life. Where will you be able to encourage good manners? Will you be on outings together where you can kindly greet somebody you know? Are you headed shopping with your kid in tow, where you can show them what it’s like to wait patiently for your turn in line? You get the idea. 

encourage good manners
Source: @jess.liao

4. Put your child in the ‘opposite’ position

Sometimes, the best lessons hit home when you’re on the receiving end. If your child is entirely proactive about their good manners without prompting, that’s fantastic. But if they’re not quite sticking, then Ms. Swann suggested putting them in the opposite position, either literally or figuratively, no matter how old they are. This gives them the chance to feel what it’s like to experience the opposite of the manner in question. At every stage of their development, children have potential scenarios relevant to their world and what they care about.  

How do they feel when they’re the one interrupted? How do they feel when you say you bought their favorite snack at the store, but when they go to find it, you tell them you actually didn’t? (Or, in reality, you’re hiding it and pretending like you didn’t until the lesson is over!) You can opt to actually put them in various situations if you think it will work more effectively. Or, simply asking them how they would feel in a given situation might do the trick.

5. Set up a reward system

A fun-spirited reward system can be a great motivator to encourage good manners. When you witness what you’ve been practicing together, present them with a relevant reward that brings them joy and further incentive to continue doing those manners. 

Let’s say your child does a great job sharing toys or taking turns speaking with a sibling or friends. Maybe next time, you invite them to speak first at the dinner table, or they get to use their preferred toys first during their next playtime.

6. Use positive reinforcement

Whether it’s manners you’ve specifically addressed with your child or just polite behaviors in general, praise them all! Catching them in the moment and telling them that they’ve done a good job with behavior x or that you’re really proud of the way they did behavior y can go a long way for remembering to do the same behavior next time. You can even create a good manners chart together to display all of the positive moments your child has had doing them.  

It might also be worth connecting with your child’s teacher over the manners that are more prone to emerge in their classroom. If you’re really hoping your child achieves these particular manners, then making it a team effort with other relevant adults who are invested in your child’s best interest can definitely help.

7. Make it a game

How many times in a day can your child spot a good manner? Challenge them to see if they can find more than you throughout the day. Keep a tally going somewhere that’s convenient for you. It sounds simple, but the more they’re paying attention to the prevalence of good manners, the more it can become a point of attraction for their own choices and behaviors. 

If you want to take it a level deeper, ask your child to expand beyond the ‘what’ of their observations. Why was a specific manner useful during a given context? How did the person do a nice job with the manner?

encourage good manners
Source: @occasions.byshakira

8. Set up a tech-free zone

It could be a time or space, but find a zone where it’s understood nobody will use screens or devices. Similar to a family digital detox, it’s reorienting your child to focus on the people in the zone. This gives them an added chance to express themselves in kind ways. 

For instance, whether it’s in the family room, at the dinner table, or during the hour before bedtime, they might be more inclined to work on manners connected to their social skills, like sharing, making eye contact, or being helpful. When we’re constantly tethered to our devices, we diminish our chances of polishing the ways we treat our loved ones. And, in turn, everybody else. With a tech-free zone in place, you’re creating extra space for good manners and added quality time, too!

9. Use movies, TV shows, and books as reference points 

Some versions of manners—both good and bad—are nearly everywhere. Why not use your child’s favorite characters and stories to bring them to life? If your child is just beginning to get familiar with the role of manners in their life, you can use the characters and stories they love to highlight good examples. On the other hand, if your child already has a grasp on the basics, then they can be the ones to point out the instances of favorable and unkind manners. Kids often take certain characters to heart, too. You can give them that extra little boost of motivation by reminding them that’s just what so-and-so would do!   

10. Allow time for reflection and adjustment

Like with adopting any new behavior or routine, checking in to evaluate your child’s progress and milestones can be useful. Are you seeing them successfully execute the good manners you’ve (or they’ve) intended them to work on? Do they need prompting from you to do them, or are they sparked to do them on their own? Are these manners a good fit and worth continuing to focus on? Figure out what seems reasonable in terms of next steps.

If your child’s old enough, they can participate in this reflection with you. Celebrate where it’s been going well for them. Are there moments that stand out? Have they become a pro at a certain manner or two? Have their good manners caused happiness for others? Hopefully, you’re able to sincerely tell them—no matter how ‘successful’ they’ve been so far—that you can tell they’ve been doing their best.      

11. Show your gratitude

It can feel like we ask so much of our kids. From new skills and activities to helping with chores, making friends, and being a good student, there’s no shortage of things we task them with. Even when it’s all for their own benefit. Telling them you’re so grateful that they’re choosing to spread good manners can be the cherry on top for encouragement. It’s nice to know when your efforts are valued, and an earnest thank you here and there along the way can signal your appreciation of your child. 

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