It’s 2014. The days of children standing around with excellent posture in their bow ties and stiff dresses are over. Our hip and modern kids may be running around with mismatched socks and spiked up hair, but that doesn’t mean that we have to abandon teachings that help our kids be well liked by other children and adults. I’m not talking about popularity here. I’m talking about helping our kids give a good impression wherever they go. After all, the Bible says that even a child is known by his actions. Not every day is going to be a rip roaring success when trying to teach our children politeness, but if we are consistent, we will eventually see them get it right more than they get it wrong. And, when they have successful and pleasant encounters with others, we are setting them up to be more successful in life. These ten skills will serve them well all through adulthood, too.
1. When adults in the room are standing because of a lack of seating, children should stand, sit on the floor, or sit on our lap. After this has happened a few times, the kids begin to unseat themselves when they need to. It’s a beautiful thing.
2. When adults are talking, children should not interrupt. This is a tough one because we are guilted by various magazines and books into believing we are doing emotional damage to our children when we don’t drop whatever we’re doing if one of them has something to say. But, anything our kids have to say (short of the kitchen is on fire) can wait until our conversation is over. Of course, there are exceptions, depending on who we are talking to or what the situation is, but we shouldn’t be afraid to tell our children that they will have to wait. In ministry it’s been an important rule because there are times when I am in deep conversation with someone, and my children generally know to occupy themselves in that instance.
3. Please and Thank You are still cool. Compliments? Candy? Bathroom break? Just about all situations with children need plenty of pleases and thank yous. It’s always a magical day when you’re training a little one to say “Thank you,” and right as you’re about to say, “What do you say?” to your child, she beats you to it and says thank you without prompting. And then angels sing in the distance. I’m sure of it.
4. When someone speaks to a child, he should respond. I know we all teach stranger danger and everything these days, but when we are together and a stranger or an acquaintance speaks to my child, he should answer. Even if it’s just to say hello or to answer a question or to say thank you after a compliment. We need to teach our children (even if they are shy) to look people in the face and respond.
5. When they are in a quiet and still environment, children should be quiet and still. I know this is tough, and it takes years sometimes to teach this to certain children. But, we do them a disservice when we communicate that we don’t expect them to be able to be still and quiet. And, sometimes even those who normally do this well will just have to squirm and make a little noise. But, we can consistently work to show them that they are capable of sitting (and sometimes even doing nothing–gasp!) for a reasonable period of time.
6. When they receive a gift or a meal they don’t want or need, children should smile and say thank you. Like many of the others, this is a matter of thinking ahead and instructing our children before the situation arises. Sometimes when we are going to someone’s house, I tell my kids, “She has worked hard to fix us a nice meal. Whatever it is, eat it and say thank you.” If we are having a birthday party, I remind my kids that if they open a gift that they already own, they should just smile and thank their friend. These are lessons in gracious living, and the sooner our kids learn to think of others’ feelings, the better.
7. Children should not invite themselves over to others’ houses. This is such a hard one to get through to kids because they reach an age where they are all about hanging out with their friends. But, we have to teach our kids what an uncomfortable situation they put other parents in when they do this.
8. Children should not ask others for money or gifts. I’m thinking specifically about grandparents here, but sometimes children get so deep into this habit that they will ask teachers or other parents for money or food or some other treat. We need to teach our children that it is rude to ask even Granny for money or gifts.
9. Children should know basic mealtime etiquette. Teaching our kids to chew with their mouths closed, use a napkin, swallow before speaking, and use utensils properly will go a long way toward making them pleasant dinner companions. If we don’t teach these skills now, before we know it they will be in high school and won’t know how to wipe their mouths while they eat. Spaghetti face doesn’t go well with a tux at prom.
10. While being tired is sometimes a catalyst for bad behavior, it shouldn’t be used as an excuse for it. We’ve all been there. Our kids are being difficult and rude, and we think or say that it’s because they’re tired. And, it’s probably true. But, tiredness doesn’t excuse bad behavior, although it can comfort us to know that it’s probably the reason behind it.
Now that the list is complete, you’re probably wondering if my children are always polite. Well, no, they’re not. And yours won’t be either. But, the more we work with them, modeling good manners and teaching them how to behave in different situations, the more polite they become and, hopefully, the more pleasant to be around.
It should be said that there will be plenty of days that go better than others when teaching these polite behaviors. But, our kids need God’s help to change, just like we do. So, we can extend grace to them when they mess up, and we can lovingly show them how to do better next time. The core of each of these behaviors is simple kindness and thoughtfulness. So, when we encourage our kids to think of others’ feelings, then we are helping them to love others.