Manners That Make Kids Shine

 The Goops they lick their fingers,

And the Goops they lick their knives;

They spill their broth on the tablecloth–

Oh, they lead disgusting lives!

The Goops they talk while eating,

And loud and fast they chew;

And that is why I’m glad that I

Am not a Goop–are you?

Written more than 100 years ago by Gelett Burgess, this poem has been set to music by at least one musician that I know of. It makes a cute little ditty kids can memorize and has a lot of truth in it.

How do you define manners in your family?  Do you insist on boys removing their hats indoors, or waiting for everyone to be served before eating? Do you have your kids call adults “ma’am” and “sir”? Or do you prefer “Mr.” and “Mrs.”?

Personally, I don’t think it matters. What matters is that their behavior shows regard for others.  Of course, mannerly kids make any parent look good. But the real reason for teaching kids manners is because they’re going to need them every day for the rest of their lives. The better mannered they are the more opportunities will be open to them. Nobody wants to associate with an oaf, except maybe another oaf.

Who wouldn’t respond more favorably to, “May I have a piece of gum, please?” than, “Gimme some of that.” I shiver at the thought. On the other hand, phoney baloney manners make a kid sound like Eddie Haskell from the old Leave it to Beaver show. Better to be genuine than a fake.

I sure as heck didn’t force my kids to address me as “ma’am.”  My husband said “yes ma’am” when he was a kid. But that’s because he’s from Texas.  

I recently asked a group of moms to list what they believe are the most important manners – behaviors and habits that meet society’s collective definition of politeness. They came through like champs. I used their responses to compile a list of manners that make kids shine. Shine means polish. And that’s what good manners do for kids: they make kids shine.

My thanks to all the moms who participated in the survey. After sifting through their responses, I came up with the TOP TEN:

1. Learn how to greet people: Say hello, make eye contact, smile. The moms I polled thought shaking hands was important for boys; and I must say, a young man who makes eye contact while shaking hands and saying, “Hello, glad to meet you,”  at the same time is way ahead of pack. Standing there like a lump doesn’t cut it.

2. Always say “please” and “thank you.” When they use simple courtesy, kids discover that people are more interested in helping them the next time. Maybe that’s what is meant by, “A little courtesy goes a long way.”

3. Speak when spoken to. Use complete sentences. Say “yes” and “no,” not “yeah” or “nah.” Example: “Yes, Mrs. Castorini, I would love some oatmeal.”

4. Pitch in without being asked. Some parents call this having an attitude of service. It requires that parents clue their kids in to what’s going on around them, or have situational awareness. Is mom bringing in the groceries? Get up and help. Is Grandma washing the dishes? Offer to dry. Dads who open doors for women are setting a good example for their sons. No child should be exempt from helping in some way, unless perhaps they are completely disabled.

5. Don’t interrupt. Not being the center of attention is hard for a lot of kids. Most parents agree that interrupting is a bad habit. It’s also a hard habit to break.  A child should be taught to say “excuse me,” or “pardon me,” when others are talking, or wait until there’s a break in the conversation – unless the house is on fire.  But parents also need to be aware that kids need their attention, another matter altogether.  Kids who are not interrupters are a lot more pleasant to have around than screaming mimis who pull on their parents’ and teachers’ sleeves to make themselves heard.

6. Learn to be patient. Basically, patience involves denying the self for a little while – or a long while. It’s stepping aside and letting others go through a door. It’s saying another kid can be first in the game or have the first piece of cake, and waiting until others have been served before eating. It’s listening to Grandpa’s story without complaining. We can’t always have what we want when we want it.

7. Speak politely. No exceptions. Kids should use the same proper language with friends that they use at home and at school. No cursing, no rude backtalk, no name-calling. This is one thing that parents must model consistently and insist on if it’s going to stick. 

8. Eat nicely. Table training starts in the high chair, when a baby begins to immitate his parents’ and older siblings’ eating habits. Chewing noisily with the mouth open is gross. So is talking while eating. Of course if your family never eats together, you won’t know how your kids eat. Kids need to learn how to set the table properly and use their napkin instead of a sleeve. They should wait until everyone has had “firsts” before taking “seconds.” And even then, they should ask before taking. My kids had to ask to be excused. Sometimes we just wanted them to sit at the table a while longer to be together as a family. Other times they needed to run off to practice or a meeting. I think saying, “May I be excused?” is as much an acknowledgment of the child’s importance to the group as it is respectful of parents and siblings. It certainly didn’t hurt my kids.

9. Make eye contact. We all know people who have a hard time with this. Their eyes dart all around the room and you wonder what they’re looking at. So teach your children to look at people when they talk to them. Not stare them down, just make eye contact now and then, focus their attention. It some cultures it may not be considered polite. But in our culture it’s considered a sign of self-confidence and respect.

10. Treat older people with respect.  In general, when encountering an older person, a child should treat them with due regard. This does not mean that mistreatment or abuse should be tolerated. Please don’t misunderstand. Demonstrate how to hold a door, offer assistance, give up a seat on the bus or subway. Train your children to say, “Hello, Mr. Smith.” Show them what it means to be nice.

Teaching kids manners is an investment in their future. The dividends pay off big.  FFG

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