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Learning to raise a polite child is a matter of consistency, teaching by example, and helping children understand what constitutes polite behavior. It is almost always the case that the impolite parent won’t have a polite child, as you are the example for your child. It’s important to remember that children need reminders, not shaming behavior or angry parenting (which is not polite) in order to learn skills that will have others celebrating their manners.
Perhaps one of the best things to first teach a child is the basic phrases, please and thank you. Though some parenting experts suggest never adding “please” when you request something of a child, it can be a help to do so when you are teaching this. Similarly when a child is doing something agreeable, thanking them is a natural follow-up. Children can learn early how nice it is to be thanked and want to act in ways that will inspire their parents' gratitude (at least some of the time), and they can additionally learn that “please” is met with a great deal of kindness.
When children have mastered these two simple phrases, you can begin to teach other polite modes of behavior. For instance, if you feel that it is polite to send thank you notes for gifts received, involve children in this process. If they’re too young to write, they may be able to dictate, and help you put notes in the mail. They might sign their name, or put a decorative sticker on a thank you card. This behavior can become routine so that that the polite child will know a gift always merits a note of thanks.
Table manners are another issue involved in raising a polite child, and these are very hard to teach if you don’t have family meals. Note that the meal can be breakfast or lunch if your schedule does not allow for dinner. Do keep in mind the age and development of children when teaching them good table manners. A three or four year old is expected to be a little messy and may not be old enough to wield a fork or knife with ease.
Try to work on one thing at a time instead of filling the dinner up with comments on etiquette and behavior and pointing out all the foibles of the child. These things take time to learn, and are frequently absorbed by your own exhibition of peerless table manners. It is impolite, especially in front of guests to point out little slips of rudeness in your children’s behavior. Instead, you might give them a whispered caution, or if the slip is too large to ignore, remind them how “we do it.” For example: “Billy, we always keep spoons out of our glasses at the table.”
A child included in social events is more likely to learn how to be polite child, especially when these events include a mix of all ages. Don’t expect a group of children to teach your child manners, but instead, expect mixed family gatherings and the opportunities to interact with people of all ages to help. As your polite child matures, give him more chances to try skills at different events or parties, trips to museums, ballets, movies and the like.
Children need to learn many things in order to be polite, and not all children are ideally suited to learning things at the same ages or stages. Remember when kids are little, they are trying to soak up all the knowledge in the world, and will benefit from gentle reminders and your consistent polite behavior to them. Some kids can’t master some of the basics for reasons outside their control.
A child with hyperactivity may not be able to sit for an hour-long dinner. Find ways to modify or vary this child’s routine, and don’t call attention to behavior he or she can’t yet control. Chances are the child already knows the polite way to act, but just is not developmentally ready to act in this manner. Shaming a child seldom results in a polite child.
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