I remember sitting around the table asking my kids, they were older teens or young adults at the time – and I asked them “What are the top 10 manners you think everyone should know?” My conversation starter was derailed (as it often is in our family) as someone asked – are good manners even relevant today? This lead us to talk about different cultures and different times and how manners – or what is considered good manners change. So instead of simply listing 10 top good manners, we had to ask why are actions considered good manners. This is an essential question for all parents to ask and find an answer for before they start insisting on certain behaviour calling it good manners. So today, let’s talk more about good manners.
So what are good manners? I think that is the point that my son was getting at when he asked if manners were relevant. He was really prompting a discussion on – are some things that people in days gone by considered good manners – are those actions still relevant today?
Good manners are the actions that show people we are aware of them, and that they are valued. Manners are how we show respect and love to others. And as a Christian family this follows the command of Christ to love others.
If we were to look for a character trait that summarises the idea of good manners it would be deference. A definition I like is “Putting the welfare of others ahead of our own personal pleasures.” *
I think deference is also closely linked with respect. Treating others with honor and dignity.
There is a common thread through all those definitions and that is the other person. We show good manners as a way of loving, respecting, and valuing the other person.
The Bible has a very simple verse that is probably the first memory verse to teach a young child: Love is not rude. 1 Cor 13:5
Of course as I said in the introduction – different cultures and different eras have defined what is rude – or what is polite. So we need to be appropriate. This is seen even today – when we travel to different cultures – we need to learn before we arrive what is polite to different people groups. And yes, every culture has expected behaviour that is seen as good manners.
The Heart of Good Manners
Whenever we want to teach something to our kids we need to get to the heart of the matter first – we need to know what is it that makes this thing – in this case good manners – the right thing to do? Why is right?
- Is it something that God says to do?
- Is it something that is morally right – respecting other people or property?
- Is it something that is just practical wisdom?
The definition or summary I came up with as we discussed this with our kids was:
Good manners are actions that show consideration to another person. We show consideration to other people because God calls us to love others, and we do this by showing them respect, which is treating them in ways that shows them that they are important to us.
This may sound wordy – but it outlines the what – why – and how – of a heart-based behaviour we want to teach our children.
- The What – defines what good manners are – they are actions that show consideration to another person
- The Why – we show consideration BECAUSE God calls us to love others
- The How – by treating them in ways that show them that they are important to us.
We need to have this understanding clearly in our mind before we start teaching our children anything that comes under the category of good manners.
- Do you want your children to say please and thank you? Why?
- Do you want your children to look people in the eyes and have a conversation? Why?
- Do you want your children to cover their mouth when they sneeze? Why?
We can expect these things of our children and we can automatically teach them to our children because they are what our parents taught us but it all comes back to this idea that we respect the people around us by doing these things.
When we teach our children the why behind the action we want for them to do, then we help them develop a moral conscience – we help them grow in understanding of how to show love and respect to others regardless of the situation they are in. Alternatively, if we just tell them to do something and we don’t give them any understanding of why this is the right thing to do – then one day they’ll just decide that was a fuddy-duddy thing that mum and dad liked and I can’t be bothered anymore, or I can’t see the point.
The point is – it shows respect to another person. So we need to teach our children why these things are important as well as how to do them.
How to Teach Good Manners
The first thing in teaching our children manners is that we need to understand why it is important. Why it is the right action in this situation.
The 2nd thing in teaching our children manners is that we need to be the role model. And yes, we need to use good manners towards our children, not just other adults in our lives. Our children are made in the image of God, they are loved by God and we are commanded to love other people – and this includes our kids – therefore we should treat them in ways that shows them that they are important to us – and that right there is the definition of good manners.
3rd step is to talk about it, explain the what, why, how. And then to start practicing it. Remind, Encourage and Practice. Over and over and over. It takes time to learn how to show respect to other people. We are hard-wired to want to look after ourself first. Good manners – or showing respect to another person – cuts straight across this. And it takes time to change, it needs time to practice.
I always say when we are learning any new character based response that it takes time to get it from our head – where we understand what is right and why it is right – to our heart – where we believe it is right – to our actions – where we choose to do what is right.
So give your children plenty of opportunity to practice. And don’t just tell them what is right, and then tell them off when they don’t do it. Remember it takes time to get it from our head, to our heart, to our hands. And it is your prompting and encouragement that will help them learn.
It’s about the Practice
One of the practical things you can do when you are helping your child make better good manners choices is call for a Do-Over.
It goes like this:
They rush into the room, talking, totally disregarding the conversation already happening in the room. So they are rude, they have interrupted rudely. So you can calmly say, “Johnny, remember we are working on making sure people know they are important to us by interrupting with respect. You forgot that, so I’d like you to go back to – – – – (fill in the blank wherever Johnny was when he excitedly came running in) and give it another try, this time remembering to show respect.)
In doing that you are calling Johnny to doing it over again, a Do-Over, but this time doing it the right way – with good manners, showing respect.
Of course you can only give do-overs when they understand what you are talking about. Before that you have to actually use the situation to teach and help them do it right. That would look like…
“Johnny, I can see that you are very excited right now, but you didn’t notice mummy and daddy were already talking. When you come into a room, you need to interrupt conversation with respect. You do that by putting your hand on mummy’s arm and waiting patiently for her to be ready to listen to you. Let’s practice.” You then take Johnny back to where he was, run into the room, and guide his hand onto your arm, you might even want to remind him to wait quietly by putting your finger to your lip and saying shhhhh – and then say a sentence to your husband (daddy), so that Johnny can practice the waiting, and then ask Johnny what is going on. This way Johnny gets to actually practice showing respect – or showing good manners when interrupting a conversation. It takes practice. It takes your effort in helping your child practice. It isn’t a once told it’s done thing.
So this Do-Over or Practicing Together is a parenting technique that you can use in teaching your children anything – or any good manners you want to teach.
- A Do-over if they know what is right but just need reminding and practicing. Or
- A Practice Together if they are still learning what is right and how to do it.
Heart-Focused Action Step:
Heart-focused Action step for this week is to look for a situation where good manners needs to be improved. Do your children know, or do they need to know the what, why and how of showing respect in that situation. When you’ve identified the situation that needs better manners, and you’ve worked thorugh what, why, how then you can teach your children and start practicing together. Remember the Do-over or the Practice Together – depending on what it is your child needs.
Here are are few suggestions:
- Saying good morning, or good night
- Saying your please and thank yous
- Using appropriate manners while eating
- Learning to listen while someone is speaking
- Respecting each other’s property
If you have older children you might like to come at it from a different perspective. Get them talking about good manners so you can see what they understand and believe about showing respect to others. Or maybe you can get them to reflect on their own choices and to pick an area in their life where they know they need to show better good manners. It might be a different issue for each of your teens.
And just as a final challenge let me mention good manners needs to happen in our marriage as well. And not just because our children are watching – because they are and they are forming all sorts of opinions about what they see. But our spouse is the number one relationship we have in our life, and we need to show them that they are important to us. That we love them. And we do that by the smallest of actions – the simple things of good manners.
If you have enjoyed the podcast so far please give a rating and review. I have a bonus Heart Booster with a Parenting Quiz based on 12 Parenting Skills for the Heart Focused parent, and a bonus audio dealing with knowing you need to change and yet being content within yourself. To get this Bonus Heart Booster you need to write a Podcast review, take a screenshot of it, and send it to me and I’ll send you the download! (available till end July 2022)
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Reviews of Heart-focused Parenting Podcast
I’m very excited
Funny you should say about not knowing how to define the word heart when it comes to parenting. My husband and I have had the exact same conversation though we didn’t go and study it like you did – which is why I am very excited to come across your new podcast. Look forward to learning from you. ~Nancy
It’s like I’m being mentored by you
Just wanted to say that I have really been enjoying your podcasts, esp #4 that I listened to twice and took notes on today. The way you speak and explain things clearly is like I am being mentored by you! So thank you kindly. ~Amy