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Kids and manners: Start with the basics

Jen Klein is a New England-based technical writer and mother of three. When she isn't asking her kids to stop bickering, "caramelizing" the dinner or actively ignoring the dust bunnies under the couch, she enjoys knitting, gardening, pho...

Please and thank you

Almost from the time our kids babble their first "mama" or "dadda" we try to instill in them the use of basic manners. "Please" and "thank you" often are kids first manners lessons. That's great, but that's not all. It's just a start! There are table manners and talking to Granny manners and health manners - and more! Before you get too deep in the details, make sure you are teaching why we use manners along with the details of how to use manners.

Little girl washing hands

Manners or "etiquette" are the conventional behaviors expected within a society -- but they are more than just that! They are thinking about others and smoothing social (informal and formal) and business interactions among the myriad of people we live around. It's recognizing we aren't the only ones who matter. For kids - who are as egocentric as they come! - this can be a tough lesson.

Developmental stages

For kids, the concept of a greater world builds slowly. As new infants, they have little concept of anything other than hunger and contentment. Slowly they recognize mom and dad and others around them and eventually the idea of "object permanence" emerges. The realization that things exist even when they aren't using them, seeing them, wanting them, is a HUGE leap!

Find out here how to teach toddlers manners.

When you think about this, it may help you understand why teaching our kids manners (teaching our kids anything, really) is a process closely tied to their development. And since you never know when a developmental milestone will occur - or stick - it's why regular reiteration of almost every lesson, not just manners lessons, are so necessary.

Find out developmental milestones and what to expect in your 3-year-old and 4-year-old here.

Applying the Golden Rule

We can, however, use kids' egocentric tendencies to help them learn. The Golden Rule - treating others the way you want to be treated - is well applied to basic manners. When kids can see how they can benefit from using manners - both the simple and the more complex - they are more apt to use them. You can talk to your kids about how they like it when a friend says "thank you" to them, or how they appreciate it when they DON'T have to see their little brother chew with a full mouth, or how it would be nice NOT to get their cousin's cold germs, or how they don't like it when a schoolmate uses that not-nice voice.

Introducing manners to kids should start young, both in practice and reasoning, but it doesn't have to be onerous. It's easily made part of everyday interactions and your regular child-raising efforts. Manners, as social currency, have real value, and we all benefit.?

More tips on teaching kids manners:

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