27 Essential Manners for Kids to Learn

Aug. 17, 2015

Teaching kids to mind their manners is easy if you make it fun. Which manners for kids are most important? Two leading ettiquette experts offer 27 manners to teach your child under 10.

"Mind your manners!" "What's the magic word?" "What do you say?" Sound familiar? You know you need to teach your child manners, but which ones matter the most? And how do you teach them?

Manners for kids under 10 are best learned by making them fun, says nationally recognized etiquette expert Mindy Lockard of The Gracious Girl. This age is the most teachable time of their lives, so take advantage of that. "Oftentimes, manners are seen by children as punishment, not as something fun and empowering," says Lockard, adding that the best way to help your children "own" their manners is to make manners fun and "celebrate your children when they use them."

"When we simply 'tell' our children to look people in the eyes but don't offer any other explanation, support or celebration they will most likely not make a solid connection with the social skill," adds Lockard. "Keep in mind that life skills are much like academic skills. We wouldn't expect our children to understand multiplication the first time -- the same is true with manners. So take time to teach and celebrate!"

In addition, mind your own manners. Your child is watching you. Julia Cook, the author of more than 70 children's books (many on manners and social skills) who is currently writing a book on children's table manners, reminds parents, "Set a good example. You are your child's manners instructor." Lead the charge by practicing good manners wherever you go.

What Manners Are Most Important?
The experts offer these 27 things to teach your child under 10:

Lockard suggests 6 Savvy S's:

  1. Stand
    for introductions.
  2. See
    Make eye contact.
  3. Smile
    Look happy to see friends, adults and new people you are meeting.
  4. Say
    your name with confidence in introductions.
  5. Shake
    Be comfortable shaking hands.
  6. Spark
    Have the ability to spark conversations and give more than a one-word answer to peers and especially to adults.

Cook suggests some other key manners:

  1. Try not to interrupt when adults are talking. If it is important or an emergency, always say "excuse me" before speaking.
  2. Always say "excuse me" if you bump into someone, get in the way of another person or burp or pass gas.
  3. Open doors for other people whenever possible.
  4. If a door is closed, knock and wait for an answer before entering.
  5. Respect the personal space of others.
  6. Avoid reaching across the table for food.
  7. Avoid eating off of other people's plates.
  8. No electronic devices at mealtime.
  9. Practice "Thumper's Rule" (from the Disney movie "Bambi") -- "If you can't say something nice ... don't say nothin' at all!"
  10. Comments about the physical or personal characteristics of others should be compliments. Keep criticism to yourself.
  11. Always, always, always say "please" and "thank you!"
  12. Remember that the people in the room are always more important than devices.

Other things to teach:

  1. Practicing polite table manners -- put your napkin on your lap, ask to be excused, don't "double dip" and don't lick serving utensils.
  2. Know how to cut food with a fork and how to use other utensils properly.
  3. Ask permission. If you're not sure it's OK, ask!
  4. Learn telephone manners. Answer nicely. Ask who is calling and politely say, "Please hold."
  5. Handwrite thank-you notes. You can send an email, but also send a "real" note.
  6. Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing and say "excuse me."
  7. Don't use swear words.
  8. Always thank your friends' parents for having you over.
  9. Learn to lose gracefully.

Did your child miss out on learning some of these lessons before age 10? "It's not too late," says Lockard. "During the tween years, parents might fear that all their hard work has been lost, but no worries, Just keep reminding them and it will come back."

Ways to Practice Manners
To help practice manners for kids at home, "reframe the situation when manners are not used correctly," Cook suggests. "For example, you might say, 'Can you think of a better way to ask for that game? Let's try that again.'" She also recommends playing "Manner Up." At the end of the day, ask each family member to share an example of how they used good manners that day. Praise and reinforce their answers and make it fun so your child will work hard to have something great to share.

For more table manner tips, see 7 Tips for Teaching Table Manners to Kids.

Margie Mars is the mother of eight and "Oma" of three. She writes for several top parenting sites, specializing in writing about attachment parenting and autism. She and her family live in Oregon. Follow her on Twitter.

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