Manners: P’s, Q’s and Why We Care

As I mentioned on the A Spirited Mind Facebook page recently, I find it interesting that people can react negatively to the subject of teaching manners.  I wonder if that might be because etiquette can be used as a means of looking down on others, or as a way to assert superiority.

I think that’s sad, because manners are basically just conventions that encourage us to be kind to and considerate of others. Certainly I want my kids to use good table manners because I want them to be comfortable in any situation, no matter how many forks are in their place setting, but more importantly I want them to be pleasant around the table so that other people can enjoy the meal and the company.

My goals for my kids in the realm of manners and etiquette (a subject in which we have far, far yet to travel!) is that they be kind, careful, respectful and considerate of their family, their guests, their hosts, and other people they happen to meet. I’m sure everyone who knows Hannah, Jack and Sarah in real life just laughed out loud, but like I said, it’s a work in progress.  Our current areas of focus are:

  • Not interrupting In my view, interrupting shows disrespect for the other person or people, and also a lack of kindness.  I’m still working on a good strategy for combatting the interrupting problem.
  • Instead of whining, asking for something with a cheerful “May I please…” Aside from being monstrously annoying, whining shows impatience and is inconsiderate.  Right now I find myself alerting the offender(s) that they are whining and asking them to use their manners instead.  Results are mixed.
  • When we leave someone else’s house, saying “Thank you for having me, I had a very nice time.” We’re working on showing consideration and respect for hosts and hostesses by thanking them when we leave.  This works but still requires prompting most of the time.  Some of the more dramatic among us tend to overembellish a little with this one.  Sometimes we act out situations so the kids can practice in advance.  Hannah likes to curtsy when we pretend to thank our hostess.  I told her that was a bit much for our cultural context, so she suggested that maybe she could just do a regular curtsy, not the big curtsy you do for the Queen.  At least if she is ever presented to a monarch she will be prepared.

We have a small selection of books about manners and etiquette, from which we read with some regularity.  These are our favorites:

Goops and How to Be Them: A Manual of Manners for Polite Infants Inculcating Many Juvenile Virtues, etc. is a fun book of rhymes basically concerned with what not to do.  We memorized one of the poems last fall (here is the video if you missed it) and it has come in handy when I see bad table manners.  “Are you being a Goop?” I ask.  “No!  They lead DISGUSTING lives!” the child replies.  I think they just like to say “disgusting” but hopefully the poem is also instructive.

What Do You Say, Dear? is instructive for common situations such as what to do if you are flying around in your airplane and remember that the Duchess said, “Do drop in for tea sometime” so you do, only it makes a rather large hole in her roof.  Obviously, saying I’m sorry when you break something is an important lesson, and kids can draw the parallels while being entertained at the thought of bumping into alligators, being held hostage by fierce pirates, dancing to an orchestra of bears and the like.  Maurice Sendak did the lively illustrations for this book.

We have two similarly fun etiquette books featuring the Muppets:The Muppet Guide to Magnificent Mannersand Grover’s Guide To Good Manners.  Of the two, the Muppet Guide is the more comprehensive, and even includes what to do when you’re frustrated at your inability to find toothpaste in the perfect shade of mauve to compliment your bathroom, but both are useful.

Richard Scarry’s Please and Thank You Book
takes a more serious line, and features the incomparable Lowly Worm.  The book covers lots of situations a child might find himself in, and a few unlikely but still worthy of application scenarios such as boat construction.

Finally, as I have mentioned before, Big Thoughts for Little People is a book on manners and behavior from a Christian perspective, structured around short vignettes, the alphabet and Bible verses.

What manners are you working on with your family these days?  Have you ever felt that etiquette was more off-putting than pleasant?  Do you have any other favorite books about manners for kids?

Note: This post is linked up at Read Aloud Thursday at Hope is the Word.

9 thoughts on “Manners: P’s, Q’s and Why We Care

  1. We’re also working on the whining thing here…Stephen is 25 months old so we’re still doing pretty basic things like trying to get him to say “please” and “thank you” and not to whine for something when he wants it. As you said, results are often mixed, but we’re trying. It’s important to both of us that he be respectful of other people, and that we are able to enjoy taking him to a wide variety of settings without worrying that he’s going to make things unpleasant for us and everyone else there.

  2. We stress the same manners that you do. The no whining one has been working well at our house, thankfully. I also praise loudly when she uses good manners, like excusing herself when she burps, when she asks kindly “May I please…”, and when she holds a door for someone (we are also working on saying thank you when someone else does that for you). It’s a tough age to teach manners, but I think one of the problems in this world is that people have forgotten that a simple task, such as saying please and thank you, opens so many more doors than gruffness or rudeness. I think part of that is the military in us 🙂

  3. At 15 months, we’re working on the basics with Lucy Bea. It’s a little hard because her vocabulary is somewhat limited (she’s being raised bilingually, with a Spanish-only nanny who takes care of her while I work). We have gotten across the message that if she wants something, she signs and says “more” instead of reaching and screeching. Same thing if she wants my attention – “mama” instead of the reach and screech. We’re working now on “more, please” and “mama, por favor” but teaching two words for the same concept is sometimes a little slow.

    Being from a 100% southern family, we want to get to “yes, ma’am” and “no, sir” to show respect for her elders, but that will be hard in our current Miami cultural context. As best as I can figure, the Spanish equivalent is “si, señora” or “no, señor”….anything instead of a “yeah” or a “nah” that is said over the shoulder without looking the adult in the eye.

    In terms of books, it’s more of a grade-school book, but I recently gave my niece the book “Do Unto Otters,” which is a pretty funny explanation of how we should treat other people (or other Otters, should they move in next door).

  4. These look like great books–especially the one about Goops! 🙂

    We’ve worked (and are STILL working!) very hard on the things you mention. My 4 year old still whines a good bit, but the 5 year old doesn’t. Maybe it’s partially an age thing.

  5. We also try to work manners consistently. My 7 year old daughter was “singing” a poem in her reading book today called, I will not whine. I told her that it would be perfect to memorize and sing when she feels like whining (which has been constantly lately).

    Thanks for sharing your books with us!

  6. These look like great books–especially the one about Goops! 🙂

    We’ve worked (and are STILL working!) very hard on the things you mention. My 4 year old still whines a good bit, but the 5 year old doesn’t. Maybe it’s partially an age thing.

  7. You really hit the nail on the head–those are exactly the three areas we are trying to work on too. It seems like the interrupting has gotten out of control lately!! I’m trying to teach my kids to touch my elbow, and I’ll put my hand on theirs to acknowledge they are waiting to speak with me. Not a whole lot of success yet. But if you have more ideas–especially on the interrupting and not whining (!!!), I would love to hear it. Some days I think I’m going to go crazy. 🙂

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