Mind Your P’s and Q’s: How I Am Teaching My Girls To Be Polite

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Maybe it is because I myself still enjoy receiving hand-written thank you notes in the mail.  Maybe it is because actually receiving a greeting from someone puts a smile on my face.  Maybe it is because I am old-fashioned.  Maybe it is because I strongly believe that manners and etiquette teach us to be more respectful, compassionate and empathetic human beings.  Or maybe it is because in commuting into New York City for work, it is not uncommon to hear multiple expletives dropped before 7 o’clock in the morning (usually directed at Metro North, but still …) and overhearing civility is like a breath of fresh air.  Whatever the reason, raising well-mannered, polite children is important to me.
Of course this might seem like an impossible task as you gaze over at your little ones and think to yourself that raising mini Emily Posts seems like an impossible feat on top of the million other aspects of raising a child.  Especially when you consider the telling aspects of a toddler … They eat crumbs off of the floor! They pick their noses! They throw food (oh, how they throw food)! They manage to make themselves completely invisible using your pant legs!  However, according to the experts, it is never too early to start teaching manners.
M sharing her snacks with her little sister.
M sharing her snacks with her little sister.
Aside from “please” and “thank you,” the below are three additional phrases that I have been trying to reinforce with my two girls:
  • “Hello” or “Hi” – If you follow or have read any of the recently popular tomes on raising your child French (Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman, for example), greeting adults is one of the hallmarks of the allegedly more polite smaller set in the land of brie and champagne.  While it might be too early to teach your two- or three-year old proper introduction skills, you can lay the foundation by ensuring that they at least say “hello” or “hi” to adults and children alike.  Sometimes if my oldest is being shy around adults, then I make sure she at least waves, and these days, it is not uncommon for me to witness her walk up to another child on the playground, greet them, ask them their name, and tell them hers.  And, purely coincidentally, my youngest daughter’s first word was “Hi”!
  • “Good-bye” – Not unlike saying “hello” or “hi,” saying “good-bye” acknowledges the person that is leaving and often prompts a “thank you” (for coming to visit, for bring a gift, etc.).  While “bye” was my oldest daughter’s first word, she readily tells me that she does not like “good-bye’s.”  In lieu of a “good-bye” some other farewell greetings that I have suggested for her are “good night” or “night, night” (either of which she uses when I take her little sister up to bed who responds with something like “nah, nah”), or “see you soon” or “have a good night/weekend.”
  • “Sorry” / “Are you okay?” – I attended a parenting lecture about a year or so ago and learned that children often do not appreciate the meaning of apologies until much later on in their development (something like 8 years old).  While there is nothing particularly detrimental about teaching your child to say that they are sorry, the act of what they are apologizing for and the apology may not be linked in their minds.  Some suggestions to address this development “block” included making sure that your child sees you apologize on their behalf (for example, “I am sorry Brandon that Michael took your toy.”)  While I’m still undecided about this particular strategy, one alternative approach did resonate with me, which was to have your child ask “Are you okay?” rather than to just say “sorry.”  To reinforce the consequences of her actions, my husband and I often respond to such an inquiry from my oldest daughter  with an explanation for why we might not be okay (for example, “No, it made me sad when you took my book”).
While some of these might be a good starting point for raising well-mannered children, no attempt will be successful if you don’t model the behavior yourself!
What tips or tricks do you have for teaching your kids manners?
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Kara, her husband, and two little girls M and Z live in the idyllic town of Rowayton. She was born and raised in West Virginia and, although she has lived in the New York metro area for over fifteen years, is a mountaineer forever (Go ‘Eers!). In addition to being a mom to M (born in 2011) and Z (born in 2013), Kara is a full time attorney working in Manhattan and a hobbyist photographer. When not battling Metro North, she enjoys practicing her photography skills, reading the latest best-sellers, trying new recipes for the girls, getting outdoors whether running, hiking or snowshoeing, and competing with her husband for the self-proclaimed title of “Efficiency Expert.” If you can’t find her doing any of these things, she most likely has fallen asleep on the sofa while attempting to watch the latest “must see” movie.

2 COMMENTS

  1. I completely agree! My daughter’s first word was actually hi and soon followed by bye! We’re working on sorry right now. It never seems to amaze me when people are amazed that a little kid is polite. Shouldn’t they be?

  2. Allison – Glad to hear that I am not alone (and that you have had similar experiences with people being surprised by politeness)! Any other tips and tricks are welcome 🙂

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