3 Foolproof Ways to Get Kids to Mind Their Manners

By: Jennifer Griffin-Wiesner

Since learning several years ago of their existence, I’ve regularly threatened to send my kids to "manners school". The threat typically happens in moments during dinner when they are animatedly arguing the details of a story, mouths chock full of rice and veggies, corn on the cob, or otherwise highly-spewable foods. Our teacher friend, Jane, I remind them, put her kids through her own version of etiquette training a few summers ago. “Maybe I’ll hire Jane to shape you up.”

The irony, of course, is that usually at some point during my admonition I notice that I too have taken a bite just before speaking, so anxious to get a word in edgewise that I have taken leave of my senses. And as long as we’re doing confessions here: I sometimes forget to send thank you cards. Maybe lots of times.

Do as I say, not as I do, right?

Well, sort of. In reality it's more like, Let’s work together on doing as I say. Because, really, even though my manners school idea does basically amount to a threat, I actually think teaching my kids etiquette is a gift--a "trust fund" they can draw on in nearly every aspect of their lives.

Here’s a little fact we tend to forget: Kids actually want to know how to function well in the world, get along with people, and be liked. Another thing that’s true is that we can help them achieve that by doing a few simple things RIGHT NOW, and a few more things tomorrow morning, and a few more next week--even if some days they seem to have been raised by wolves. Here’s how:
  • Treat your kids the way you want them to treat others. My number one rule for teaching etiquette is that I will not shame or embarrass my kids to do it. It’s counter productive. I want them to be gracious and polite because it makes the world a happier, more comfortable place to be. If I’m lousy to them in an attempt to correct their behavior, it’s way more likely to lead to more lousiness. I probably don’t always succeed in being respectful, but I always keep on trying. Always. Progress not perfection.
  • Know your standards. I’m not going to tell you which manners you should consider most important. That’s your call. I will say that the "Golden Rule", Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, is a good place to start (see above). But whatever your list is, be clear about it: write it down, discuss it as a family, even post your top 10 somewhere in your home. I can’t stress enough the importance of simply verbalizing your expectations for their behavior.
  • Explain, Demonstrate, Guide, Enable (keep your EDGE). Of course, all talk and no action is a bridge to nowhere. EDGE is actually a model that is used in scouting to help leaders of all ages learn to teach any new behavior or skill to someone else. It works great for manners. You tell kids what you want them to do (be gracious, give thanks for kindnesses), model it (write a thank you card to someone and show it to your child), do it together (write a thank you card together, perhaps both writing a couple of sentences), and then help them do it themselves (have your child write a thank you card with spelling and grammar help as needed).
  • Give these three things a try for a month and I think you’ll be pleased with the results.

    How do you get your kids to mind their manners? Share your tips in the comments section below.

    my son and his partner have told there 3 yr old she can not go to mamas 3 days after the said misdeaner .there reason for this punishment is because she likes going !.do you think this is right.

    she had put hand cleanser on the key board of there computer and her hair!
    i think she should not have been left to be able to do this for obvious saftey reasons,so really its there fault although at the min i have not said this

    Please & Thank you take you far in life. Great article!


    nicely written and realistic

    Rather helpful

    Hello Jennifer Griffin-Wiesner. I really enjoyed reading this post as it was helpful and practical. I look forward to more posts in future.


    It is difficult today, but so important for young people to use basic manners.
    I love your written list idea and of course the necessity of modeling what you value.
    The following article, “24 Ideas for Instilling Manners in Children,” was written for elementary teachers, but may be of interest to parents, as well. See: http://www.kellybear.com/TeacherArticles/TeacherTip62.html

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