Polite kids: Common courtesies, revisited

As parents, it’s our responsibility to provide our children with an awareness of others and the skills they’ll need to be the kind of person others will be happy to know.

Here are five not-so-common-anymore courtesies to focus on. Once they’ve mastered them, it’ll be time for a new list.

I’m about to use a dreaded phrase that proves I’m getting older.

When I was a kid, courteous children were the norm, but now that I have kids, it seems far less so.

What exactly am I referring to? Emily Post defines common courtesy as “the little gestures that we perform out of respect for others. They can be as simple as holding open a door or letting someone go ahead in a long line, to something as grand as sharing a homemade meal. Most importantly, they are characterized by a specific awareness of our surroundings and how our behaviors may affect those around us.”

How we got here

Our generation of parents places emphasis on nurturing self-esteem, confidence and independence in our children, all of which are incredibly important. We teach our children to know themselves, stand up for their needs, speak their mind and reach for their dreams, but encouraging them to value themselves has come at the cost of the devaluation of others.

Dr. Michele Borba, parenting expert and author of Don’t Give Me That Attitude!: 24 Rude, Selfish, Insensitive Things Kids Do and How to Stop Them reports: “A recent survey conducted by US News & World Report found nine out of 10 Americans felt the breakdown of common courtesy has become a serious problem in this country. A huge 78 percent of those polled said manners and good social graces have significantly eroded over the past 10 years and is a major contributor to the breakdown of our values in this country. What’s more, 93 percent of adults feel the major cause of rudeness is because parents have failed to teach respect to their kids.”

We recognize there’s a problem, but how do we fix it? Making a list of courtesies we’d like for our children to practice is a great way to start.

Signs your child needs an etiquette intervention >>

Common courtesies all children should show adults

Offer full attention when adults are speaking to them.

Children should truly listen when they’re spoken to and should smile and make eye contact.

Give up their seat for pregnant women and the elderly.

This is such a simple gesture but makes a huge impact. Children build character by recognizing others are in greater need.

Open and hold doors for others.

Opening and holding a door until another person passes through takes but a moment but reflects an awareness of others.

Offer sincere compliments often.

To offer a sincere compliment, we must be fully aware of others and not focused on ourselves. Learning to offer a compliment is a life skill and an easy way to make others feel seen.

Express gratitude often, for even the smallest of things.

Thanking everyone, from the server who refills their glass at the restaurant to those who remembered their birthday, is incredibly important.

Avoid nagging by teaching your child manners >>

One child at a time

Teaching our children to show courtesy can be difficult when we look around and see so little extended back. Change has to start somewhere. As Mahatma Gandhi so wisely advised, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”

More on manners

Does your child need etiquette classes?
What’s my name again? What should kids call you?
How to teach better manners


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