This is not a brag post, so please don’t think me rude…
I am regularly complemented on my daughter’s manners. At 4 years old she says “please” and “thank you” without being reminded (most of the time), she waits until everyone is done dinner before asking, “May I be excused, please?” and she’ll even apologize to a rock if she accidentally steps on it.
This didn’t happen over night and we still have things we’re working on, like not interrupting when people are talking, but it’s one of the things I’m most proud of as a parent.
I didn’t really think about these things much. After all, our family is polite and our friends are as well.
Then we spent some time with a not-so-polite child.
This boy was older than Miss O by about a year and was generally a pleasant person. But I couldn’t help but notice that the entire time he was with us, which was a fairly long time, he didn’t say “please” or “thank you” once. Not once.
Now, obviously I’m not going to hold this against this child, or his parents, for that matter. There are a lot of reasons he might not have behaved as he normally would; his parents weren’t around, he didn’t know Mr. O or I all that well, he was all hopped up on sugar… etc. I don’t think 1 encounter can give me a complete picture of a person or a family.
But it did get me thinking.
Why do manners matter?
Manners are more than just niceties that we have to force ourselves to do. They’re a great tool for teaching kids about respect and care for others.
In our ever-more egocentric world, manners are more important than ever. They signal, if only for a moment, that we are thinking of and empathizing with those around us.
Respect for others. Being polite is respectful to others, plain and simple. We say “please” because we respect the other person’s right to say “no” to our request, just like we say “thank you” to show our appreciation for their efforts. Manners help us put others before ourselves in small, but important ways.
Respect for ones self. Taking the time to be polite and putting in the effort to appreciate other people is a way of recognizing that how we behave matters to other people. Grandparents want to know that you appreciate that gift because your happiness matters to them. Friends want to know that you’re sorry if you do something wrong because they care about you and want you to care about them.
Also, I hope that Miss O will see that not only do her manners matter to others, and that she deserves to be surrounded by people who treat her with the same good manners and respect.
The future. Eventually our little ones are going to grow up and manners will be more than something they practice, or a way to impress your in-laws. They’ll be meeting new teachers, parents of friends, parents of boyfriends or girlfriends, and bosses, all of whom will be noticing their manners (or lack of manners).
Should we teach manners just so our kids look posh to “important” people? Of course not! Manners are valuable every day to every person we meet.
Holding the door for the person behind us, giving up a seat on the subway to someone who needs it more than we do, helping clear the table after someone has prepared a nice meal for us… these things are small ways that we can make our communities and homes better places to be.