“You got anything to eat in here?” she said as she opened my refrigerator door and began to poke around. Just a few minutes earlier, she’d casually walked in, picked up the remote without a word and started changing the TV channels.
No, this wasn’t my child enjoying her own house. It was a child visiting for a play date. Unfortunately, our tiny visitor was grossly abusing my offer to make herself at home. Although I was shocked at her behavior, I didn’t blame her – I blamed her parents.
Have you noticed that our children are sorely lacking the manners that use to be so basic? But at the same time, they’re having more and more play dates at other people’s homes. When we send our kids out with “no home training” as we say down South, we create a recipe for them to embarrass us and themselves.
Now don’t get me wrong, my little girl is nowhere close to being a graduate from the Emily Post Institute for Immaculate Manners, but we try to instill the basics in her. Like most eight year olds, she forgets to say “please” and “thank you” and she often chews with her mouth wide open. But we correct her whenever possible. And because we consistently emphasize manners, she is slowly (very slowly!) becoming conscious of her behavior and she’s starting to correct herself. However, I’ve noticed that some of her friends treat good manners like a foreign language that has never, ever been spoken at their house.
Let’s save ourselves the embarrassment of not having our children asked back for another playdate because of their bad manners. Let’s commit to teaching our children these five basics:
1. To wait before entering someone elses house – Most children barge right in as soon as the door is opened. They’re excited and eager to play and explore. We have to teach them to greet the person who opens the door and wait to be invited in.
2. How to introduce themselves to adults – Every child over the age of six should be able to confidently look an adult in the eye when being introduced. Our children should also be able to tell the adult they are being introduced to their name and some basics in an audible voice. For example, “Hello, Mr. Johnson. I am Janet and I’m 7 years old. I attend XYZ Elementary School.”
3. To say “please” and “thank you” – This should be a regular part of their routine at home, school or in public. The more they practice, the more these courtesies become second nature.
4. How to talk to adults respectfully – I grew up in a traditional southern household where phrases like “sir” and “ma’am” were as holy as anything in the Bible. Many grew up with a different standard and view these terms as archaic and unnecessary. That’s fine, as long as we teach our children that they can NOT talk to adults the way that they talk to their peers. A “yes, Mr. Johnson” will take them much further than a “Yeah, ok.”
5. How to act in another person’s home – While we want our children to feel comfortable in any setting, they need to be aware of how to act when they are in someone else’s home. A good rule of thumb is for them to ask before they act. They should ask before they help themselves to food and ask before using items that don’t belong to them.
Our babies are young, but not too young to understand that they are being judged by their manners or their lack of manners. What basic manners are you teaching your little ones?
Yolanda Darville is a wife, mom and freelance writer focusing on issues that make a difference. To read more of her writings connect with her on Twitter at @YolandaDarville.