Having excellent manners and proper etiquette can help us put our best foot forward with others. From showing kindness and appreciation for others to being aware of our surroundings, practicing proper manners can help foster understanding and connection in every social situation.
That said, teaching manners and setting boundaries with kids that reflect your and your family’s values can help model behaviors for your children that help them learn social skills, adapt to new situations, and show respect and kindness to others. And it’s never too early for a parent to lead by example as they teach their children the importance of good manners.
“Good Manners” Can Vary Across Cultures and Environments
Knowing how to model appropriate manners for kids can help set your young child up for success with social skills, foster connection, and encourage respect and empathy for others. All that said, what are proper or appropriate manners for kids? What one family considers good manners can vary from another based on the family’s culture, environment, and needs:
In short, “good manners'' aren't set in stone and can change depending on where your child is, who they’re interacting with, and what cultural differences exist between themselves and others. Etiquette and manners can even change within families—your child may encounter different behavior expectations when they’re at a relative’s house than when they’re home with you.
This idea can sometimes be confusing to young children. Fortunately, encouraging certain behaviors and values rather than enforcing absolute rules can help children adapt to different social environments and situations.
For example, instead of saying, “It’s always polite to take off your shoes when you come inside,” try saying, “It’s polite to take off your shoes when you come into our house. But sometimes it’s polite to leave your shoes on inside, like when you go to school. You can always ask if you don’t know how to show your manners in a new place.”
At the end of the day, try parenting without positive and negative reinforcement, especially when it comes to practicing manners with your child.
Helping Your Kid Respect Neurological Diversity
If your child or a child you know is neurodivergent, it might make sense to expand on the idea of what you consider “politeness.”
As we discussed above, the idea of politeness and manners can differ between cultures and even families. It makes sense that they can differ for neurodivergent people, too. As you teach manners to a neurodivergent child—or to a child who is their friend—keep in mind that you may need to redefine “manners” in a way that makes sense for their world.
When teaching your child about manners when interacting with neurodivergent people, focus on the following:
As a caregiver, there’s no right or wrong way to teach manners when it comes to parenting with confidence. Your unique insight into your child’s needs and behaviors are the best tools to use when teaching and modeling respect.
Naming the Values Behind the Manners
It’s often easier to learn new skills when we understand why those skills matter. The same can be said for children learning manners at an early age.
When teaching a new manner, try to avoid generic status-quo explanations like “because that’s the rules” or absolute statements like “polite children hug their grandma hello.” Rather than connecting manners and expectations to your specific household, try teaching manners in a way your child can apply to many other environments in the world around them. For example, try to focus on the emotion behind the manner you're trying to teach and how it helps us connect with others.
- Waving hello and goodbye – One of the first manners many babies learn is how to wave hello and goodbye. Most of us smile instinctively and wave back when a young child waves at us. Without thinking about it, we’re using our physical body language to teach children that waving hello and goodbye can be a kind way to greet someone. It shows you care about them and are happy to see them.
- Saying “please” and “thank you” – You may have heard adults refer to “please” as “the magic word” that can help children receive what they’re asking for. Unfortunately, this explanation teaches children an action rather than a value. When reminding your child to use polite language, try to focus your explanation on how using words like “please” and “thank you” can send a message that you value and appreciate them. Consider learning with your child by reading a children’s book about gratitude.
- Waiting your turn – Learning to wait for something they want can feel frustrating for little ones. Whether you’re teaching your child to wait their turn to play with a toy or to wait their turn to speak, try to focus the lesson on why this manner of politeness matters. For example, when we let someone finish their story instead of interrupting, we show them their story matters and we want them to feel respected, heard, and understood. Try practicing turn taking activities with your child to help them understand the importance of patience and respect among others.
Focusing on the emotion behind the proper manners can also make it easier for your child to find a common value behind two sets of conflicting manners. In this regard, it can make it easier for a child to understand why in some families, it’s okay to talk at the same time (cooperative overlapping), and in others, it’s more polite to talk one at a time.
These manners come from the same value—showing your family they’re cared for, attended to, and heard.2
Tips For Teaching Manners
It’s beneficial to frame manners around values rather than concrete codes of conduct. But teaching manners is rarely easy. Fortunately, we have a few favorite tactics to help your child learn from the very best—you!
- Modeling manners – Children learn through copying what they see the people around them do—both in real life and in the media they watch and listen to. To practice healthy parenting skills, try consistently modeling the manners you want your child to learn, and ask the other adults and older children in your child’s life to do the same.3
- Patience and repetition – Like any other skill, learning manners takes time and practice. Give yourself and your child extra patience and grace as you try to teach your child new manners. If there’s a manner you want your child to learn before an upcoming event—say, raising their hand to talk before they start school—try to begin teaching that skill to your child long before they enter the new environment to provide consistency and practice.4
- Validating emotional connection – When your child successfully practices a new manner, try telling them how their polite behavior impacted you or others. Instead of saying, “Good job! You’re so polite!” try something like, “Thank you for using such polite manners; that really shows me you care.” You can validate your child’s efforts in a way that also reinforces one of the best things about manners—how they can help us connect with and care for the people around us.
- Reinforcing lessons through storytime – Reading books with your child about manners and the reasons behind them can help reinforce the values you’re trying to teach your child. For example, you and your child could read Honey Bear, I’m Grateful for You, or Honey Bear’s Gifts of Nature to learn about gratitude and thankfulness when you’re trying to teach your child why and when to show appreciation.
Modeling Manners with Slumberkins
To help children understand the importance of manners, respect, and gratitude, you can frame certain behaviors around values that build connection and understanding in different situations.
At Slumberkins, we believe in working together to raise a community of kind, resilient, emotionally-intelligent children. That’s why we create books and original stuffed animal characters that help your child explore their emotions and reinforce impactful lessons.
We’re here to give you one more tool to connect with your child—whether you’re exploring new manners or one of the other exciting and fulfilling parts of growing up. Our products are organized by theme and include toys and books about connection, gratitude, and conflict resolution, so you can easily find the products that make the most sense for your family.
- "13 Examples of Good and Bad Manners Around the World." How Stuff Works. Updated 12 April. 2021. https://people.howstuffworks.com/13-examples-of-good-and-bad-manners-around-the-world.htm
- "In Real Life, Not All Interruptions Are Rude." New York Times. 25 September, 2021. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/09/25/opinion/interrupting-cooperative-overlapping.html
- Shrier, Carrie. "Young children learn by copying you! " Michigan State University. 27 June, 2014. https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/young_children_learn_by_copying_you
- "Teaching table manners to young children." Michigan State University. https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/teaching_table_manners_to_young_children
- Butcher, Kittie. "What is neurodiversity?" Harvard Health Publishing. 17 Novemere, 2016. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/what-is-neurodiversity-202111232645