Class action: good manners

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 01 September, 2012, 4:42pm

This summer is the first time I have looked after groups of my daughter's friends. I have been disappointed to see how few children bother to say "please" or "thank you". How can I help my five-year-old daughter develop good manners?

Simple good manners govern the way we interact with others, and can begin in the home. There are a number of books which you can read with your daughter to help her understand why manners are important. The Elephant and the Bad Baby is a terrific story about an elephant and a baby who go on a food-stealing spree.

The fun of the book is that the elephant is happy to steal buns and ice cream at the baby's behest but refuses to continue when he realises that the baby hasn't said "please". For slightly older children, Madeline Says Merci by John Bemelmans Marciano contains advice written in rhyme form. The Madeline cartoons will be familiar to children and the illustrations lighten the text.

Once your daughter understands the importance of basic good manners, you can remind her gently to say "please" when she asks for something and "thank you" when she receives something. After a while, stop reminding her so she stops relying on your prompt.

If she forgets, you can step in; but the aim is for her behaviour to become second nature. As a foundation, start your daughter off by focusing on greeting people, asking courteously and thanking them.

Good manners should be applied in all your daughter's dealings. It saddens me when I see students being discourteous to domestic helpers and staff in restaurants.

Teach your daughter that everyone should be treated with respect. Children acquire habits through observation. Watching you act courteously towards service providers will lead her to replicate your behaviour.

Parents will often panic when interviews come around because their son or daughter lacks manners, avoids eye contact, and is socially awkward. The real concern should be that this behaviour will be detrimental to a child's ability to make friends and interact with others. Helping your child to understand that they are responsible for their own behaviour is one way of avoiding this future problem.

Encourage your daughter to greet people you meet. If you notice that your daughter is avoiding making eye contact, you can talk to her about how this is one way of showing people that she is truly happy to see them. If she is nervous about looking at people, suggest she initially focuses on looking at their foreheads. This tactic does give the impression that you are making eye contact.

We often see children avoiding contact in social situations. The perception is that a child who is otherwise occupied will not distract adults. But allowing children to isolate themselves sends the message that the basics of polite communication do not apply to them.

As your daughter is young, you have time to establish basic ground rules. Explain that she will be expected to greet people and have some interaction. Say that if she does this, she will get a sign that indicates she is allowed to read her book or play her game. This way, she will develop good habits.

Schools will let students know how they expect them to behave in terms of greeting teachers. But parents are responsible for setting the standards outside school. If you help your daughter to understand that "please" and "thank you" do not stop at the front door, you will never need to panic about her manners.

Jessica Ogilvy-Stuart is the director of the Brandon Learning Centre and prepares students to study abroad