Etiquette Excellence for Kids

The right stuff for children who should know better

My mother and grandmother insisted I say “please” and “thank you” to my elders when I was growing up. Parents who teach their children good manners today are doing them more than a favor — they’re giving them a valuable gift.

Good manners go a long way toward endearing your child to teachers, coaches, and peers. And as your child grows up, his behavior may make or break an opportunity. For instance, when he interviews for a job, his credentials may be on par with another candidate’s — but the more polite and mannerly person will most likely get the position.

Related: Etiquette Errors That Can Sink Your Career

When he enters the dating world and asks someone to dinner, he may experience rejection if he eats like a barbarian. Simply put, your child will undoubtedly be more successful in life if he has good manners.

These timeless tips will give your child a head start and a strong moral compass as he navigates through this competitive world.

1.) Greet people with a handshake.
A first impression is a lasting impression and a handshake is the universal greeting that conveys confidence and respect. Teach your child to look adults in the eye and give them a firm handshake.

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2.) Say please and thank you.
The fastest way to get what you want in this world is to say these magic words. When you say “thank you,” it shows that you are taking the time to make the other person feel appreciated. And a request accompanied with a “please” doesn’t sound so demanding.

A child who constantly has his head buried in a tablet, smart phone, or game will have difficulty developing proper social skills later in life.

3.) Do not interrupt.
This is especially important when an adult is trying to have a conversation with someone on the phone or in person. Teach your child to be patient and say “excuse me,” if she has something to say. She can ask for what she needs but with gentleness and respect.

4.) Speak when spoken to.
A lot of children are shy when it comes to speaking with adults. Encourage your child to acknowledge adults when they enter and exit a room. An elaborate conversation is not always necessary, but it’s nice to hear more than a “Yup” from time to time.

5.) Put down that electronic device.
A child who constantly has his head buried in a tablet, smart phone, or game will have difficulty developing proper social skills later in life. Set boundaries and when you put your device away, insist that your child do the same.

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6.) Respect elders.
Teach your child to speak kindly to those who are older and wiser. A child can show respect by holding the door open, carrying bags, or giving up a seat for an elderly person.

7.) Establish good table manners.
Everyone tends to be a little too relaxed at the dinner table — but that’s no excuse to leave your manners at home when you dine out. Encourage your child to chew with her mouth closed and not to talk with food in her mouth. Discourage her from taking food from other people’s plates and making unnecessary noises while she eats.

When children get a little older, they should be taught how to set a table, properly hold a knife and fork, put a napkin in their lap, order in a restaurant, help clear the dishes from the table, and wait for everyone to finish eating before they excuse themselves. Instead of harping on what a child does wrong, reward your child whenever he does something right.

The small gesture of a thank you note will teach your child about gratitude and make him stand out among his peers.

8.) Practice good hygiene.
Children are exposed to a lot of germs, so encourage your child to wash his hands after going to the toilet and before and after he eats. Nose picking is a nasty habit and should be discouraged.

9.) Be patient.
Whenever a child has a meltdown in public, it makes everyone uncomfortable — especially the parent. Teach your child to share with others, wait her turn, and not cut in line. Whenever she’s polite or does something good, reward her with praise.

10.) Write thank-you notes.
Teach your child the importance of thanking people for gifts as soon as he can hold a pencil or a crayon. When I was young, my grandmother used to send me birthday cards with a $5 bill tucked inside. My mother made me sit down immediately and write a thank-you note. As an adult, I now write at least one thank-you note a week to someone special. This small gesture will teach your child about gratitude and make him stand out among his peers.

11.) Be a humble winner and a gracious loser.
Not everyone can win all of the time. Teach your child to congratulate the winner and be the bigger person and choose the kid who ordinarily wouldn’t be picked for the team.

Related: The Secret Reason Our Kids Are Complacent

12.) Share with others.
Share with your children so they understand the importance of sharing with others. Compliment them when you see them giving of themselves and going above and beyond to help someone less fortunate.

Good manners begin at home. Children do what you do — not what you say. If you tell a child what to do and then turn around and do something else, all they’ve learned is that your words are just words with no meaning. Be a good role model. If you practice good manners, they will too.

Jacqueline Whitmore is an international etiquette expert, a bestselling author, and the founder of The Protocol School of Palm Beach. 

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