How do you raise kids and grandkids who say "please" and "thank you" and don't bury their noses in their phones when they're hanging out with you or with their friends?
"There seems to be a general lack of good manners in public these days," says child psychiatrist Elizabeth Berger, author of Raising Kids with Character.
What should you do to make sure your kids and grandkids aren't contributing to the problem?
Model good behavior. "How do we teach great social skills to our kids if we don't model them?" says Mason Turner, chief of psychiatry at Kaiser Permanente in San Francisco. "The father and mother are typing away on their Facebook, and they're surprised the teenagers are doing it." Parents should use "please, sorry, thank you, excuse me, and you're welcome" frequently, too, says Berger. "In that manner children absorb these words naturally. Correcting and reminding children is not as helpful a technique as parents often seem to think." Instead, raise kids in a loving atmosphere so they "genuinely feel grateful," says Berger.
Feel free to set standards of conduct for the dinner table. It's OK to just say no to cell phones during meals. "If you are going to dinner at a restaurant, your cell phone should be turned off," says Turner. (An exception: if you're responsible for a young child home with a babysitter.) "Parents can explain that mealtimes are not occasions for reading a book or texting on the cell phone or getting up to check something on the Internet," says Berger. The ideal? "Establish an atmosphere of mutual respect, curiosity, and intimacy over the dinner table," she says. After all, angrily listing a bunch of dinner table rules can lead to rolled eyes, she notes.
Help kids develop concern for other people. Manners are "related to other character qualities such as empathy, respect, gratefulness, and the wish to make reparation," says Berger. "Parents raise a child to be respectful by being respectful to the child. This is the deepest kind of respect, because it is based in genuine and profound love relationships." Later, after watching their parents, kids "develop the natural tendency to extend a respectful kindness to strangers, through the use of magic words," she says.
Be honest. "Naturally, in healthy families all the family members may say to one another frankly and honestly, 'Wow—I think you were really rude to that cashier!'" says Berger. "This goes both ways. Children often make this sort of remark to their parents, and they often are quite right. Parents should not hesitate to say the same thing to their children in a frank and honest spirit. That is not the same thing as nagging and preaching and scolding about manners, which should be avoided."
Why not turn good manners into a mid-year resolution for your family?
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