Path to Kindness: Lessons in Children’s Etiquette
Editor’s note: Erica Thomas writes SB Magazine’s monthly column, Mind Your Ps & Qs. In place of her July column, Thomas gives a more in-depth look at raising children to be kind. Thomas is a certified etiquette consultant from the Protocol School of Washington and the owner of Modern Day Etiquette by Ad Pros. For more information, visit www.modernetiquetteinc.com or call 318.221.6756.
In a world where bullying and violence are so prevalent in children’s lives, it’s essential to teach them proper manners and to be kind and generous. Parenting is never an easy job and determining the right and wrong way to do so can be very stressful. This list of 10 tips is not exclusive, but it is a start.
Why It Is Important
Teaching children to be kind and generous is crucial — the news is flooded with school shootings, bullying and suicides more so now than ever. While discussing mental health is important, parents must also make sure children know the appropriate ways to act. Children are born with many innate abilities but being kind and generous is a learned behavior. Years ago, there were charm schools or etiquette schools to teach proper manners. While there are still a few schools that teach etiquette today much of the responsibility to teach proper behavior is placed on parents. Teaching children to be kind and generous will help them successfully navigate life and have a more positive experience.
Brandy Evans, vice-president of communication at Shreveport Bossier Convention and Tourist Bureau, has a daughter Jasmine Wallace, who is a junior attending Tulane University. “My best advice is to teach your child to love God, himself or herself and others,” Evans said. “It’s easier then to instill manners, gratitude and humility.”
Please use these tips at your leisure to help provide your children with the tools needed to be kind and generous.
- Start early. The earlier you start teaching these proper behaviors, the better chance you have at success. If you wait until your child is older, it will be harder to break bad habits and create new ones. If you require kind and generous behavior from day one, it will become second nature to them eventually. Start them off with the magic words, “please” and “thank you,” and add more lessons as they get older.
- Be the example. So many parents live by the “do as I say and not as I do” mindset. This is not the best way to teach your children how to behave appropriately. Setting the example is a much more effective way to show them what should be done. Using your manners, being generous to those around you, and always being kind will show them the best way to behave.
- Be consistent. Starting with manners, they should say “please” and “thank you” to every person they encounter. Visitors, siblings, other family members and classmates are all included in the people that should be treated with good manners. Letting your children pick and choose who they want to be kind to will only allow them to be unkind more and more.
- Decide what manners you want to implement. Not all manners may apply to you and your family. Sometimes this can be dependent on your geographical location as well. Some people will require their children to use “ma’am,” “sir,” “Mrs.” and “Mr.” with every person they meet. If your children are modeling the behaviors you expect of them, any set of manners will do. Linda Biernacki, owner and president of Fire Tech Systems, Inc. has two daughters, Nikki Biernacki, incoming freshman at Ole Miss, and Emily Biernacki, current student at Ole Miss. “The one thing I always stress is to always say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and be kind always,” Linda said. “I even ordered shirts for them to wear that say, ‘be kind always.’”
- Deal with impolite behavior. If you know your child is unkind to someone, you must nip it in the bud. Making them apologize to whomever they are cruel to is a great way to show them how to be kind instead. Other behavior like burping, passing gas and using bad language are perfect opportunities to discipline and provide them with the tools to do better. For example, if they are picking their nose, require them to wash their hands each time and then obtain a tissue. Eventually, this should break the habit, as they will get tired of washing their hands.
- Eat dinner as a family as often as possible. The dinner table is a great place to practice manners and generosity. Saying things like “please pass the rolls” and “thank you” can be great ways to learn and practice proper manners. Showing kindness is easy by offering to split the last of the dessert with someone else at the table. Lastly, discussing how everyone’s day went is a positive way to determine any issues that may have happened at school. It is good for parents to also talk about their days because being open and honest with your children will help them to be more open and honest with you.
- Let your children help pick out gifts or donate items. At Christmas time or on birthdays, you can either let your children help you pick out gifts for people, or give them a couple of dollars to pick out gifts themselves. Even better than that, get your children involved in volunteer work or donating items. Something as simple as taking some canned goods to the local food pantry can have a significant impact on children and their generosity.
- Have responsibilities at home. Chores, chores, chores! Having your children do their own chores around the house is the best way to teach them responsibility. It is also a good idea to have both chores they do every day and do not get an allowance for, and others they go above and beyond for to earn money. For example, keeping their room clean and tidy is expected, but mopping or vacuuming the floor may earn them some allowance.
- Teach them to always respond with kindness. There will be times when your children encounter others that will not be nice. It is imperative you teach them to react positively. While they should not allow themselves to be bullied, responding with kindness is almost always the best answer. A great way to teach this is to model the behavior. There will be times when you encounter someone who is mean or rude while your children are with you, so keep in mind how you would want them to respond before you react. Remember, they are always watching.