"Mabel, Mabel, if you're able, keep your elbows off the table." That was the chant in my house when we were growing up, the reminder that it wasn't okay to put your elbows on the table. Nor was it okay to use your sleeve to wipe your face, burp out loud, ask rudely for food to be passed, and a host of other things.
Manners and social graces bring a degree of civility our world. They are a common language, a protocol, a script that eases transitions and demonstrates respect for people and for order.
There isn't a parent alive who doesn't want her child to "use your manners." (And many a parent is so embarrassed when hers is the only child who doesn't say please or thank you, seeing it as a reflection on her parenting.) Teaching manners is one thing; having a child who uses his manners all the time is quite another. In fact, I know lots of adults who don't use their manners all of the time. There sure is a whole lot for children to learn and to do when it comes to manners and social graces.
Two things must be kept in mind when it comes to teaching and expecting mannerly behaviors from your child: his temperament and his development. Development refers to the child's ability to understand the need for his manners. As a child develops empathy, the ability to see from someone else's perspective or walk in another's shoes, manners make sense. Before then, it is just a parroting of what you have told him to do. If you say please, you get the juice.
The second factor is the individual temperament with which every child is born. That temperament informs his every interaction. Some child who are on more "introverted" or "sensitive" or "slow-to-warm up"(I don't use the word "shy," as it has a negative connotation), will have a harder time using manners that involve other people. It's really hard for this child to look someone in the eye and say hello or thank you.
Here are some tips for cultivating your child's use of manners.
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