One of the hardest obstacles children face today is learning good manners without seeing any. It is sad to see adults be uncivil to each other because children follow suit. What are manners? They are a happy way of doing something. Emily Post wrote, “Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use.”
In my second grade classroom I have three rules: Respect others, be polite and helpful, and keep your hands, feet, and objects to yourself. But the most important rule of all that “happy way of doing” that beats them all, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Yes, the “Golden Rule”! I think what most parents wish for is that good manners will become natural habits for their child.
Every year so much more curriculum gets added to a teacher’s plate that it might be easy to overlook teaching manners. With growing demands on teaching time, etiquette is rarely a priority. No matter how busy I am I find there is always time for courtesy! When I ask my second graders and my own children to use their manners; they have more respect for me. I find the best way to teach manners is for us to model it in daily life and practice what we preach! Write thank you notes, tell someone you appreciate them, look people in the eye, greet others with a smile and handshake. It sounds like common sense to us but we must teach it to our children so they see the importance of manners and respect. People crave respect like a dog craves a belly rub! It is more likely that our children will grow and bloom into wonderful caring adults with manners under their belts.
If you ever go to school to eat lunch with your child, listen carefully for manners. You will hear, “I want” and “give me” to the cafeteria ladies and “open this” to the lunch aides. Let’s “pass the manners” and work together to teach children that please and thank you can bring smiles and respect.
Manners shouldn’t be saved for special occasions only! We can use them every day. A simple please and thank you can go a long way! In my classroom and at home with my kids I ask them to use their German and Japanese manners: Danke, Domo Arigatou Goziamasu (thank you in German and Japanese) and Bitte, Kudasai (please in German and Japanese). I’m all about doubling up and catching up! If I can find a way to combine subjects with foreign language and manners, I do it! The little brains of children are ready to absorb and retain everything parents and teachers teach them.
There’s a wonderful book I love to read to my class and my children, Do Unto Otters by Laurie Keller. This book teaches children the “Golden Rule” with characters Mr. Rabbit and his new neighbors, the Otters. Do Unto Otters shows kids that a simple “please” or “thank you” goes a long way in making friends. AND what I love most is that it teaches please, thank you, and excuse me in four languages: Spanish, French, German, and Japanese (there’s Pig Latin too)!
I always praise my second graders and my children when they show nice manners on their own. Praise is power! My school is encouraging “Random Acts of Kindness”. If someone notices a child doing something nice for someone else, a teacher or student writes it down on a strip of paper called a “kindness link” and the Principal reads a few during morning announcements. This gets children thinking about the “Golden Rule” and the importance of thinking of others. It’s a great way to get the whole school involved and the children can’t wait to see how long the chain will be.
Amy Vanderbilt wrote, “Good manners have much to do with emotions. To make them ring true, one must feel them, not merely exhibit them.” When we say something, it should be sincere! Manners can be an art form especially in a thank you note. But I think as long as we are showing each other the simple respect and kindness everyone deserves, our children will see it’s worth the effort! Because no act of kindness is ever wasted, it’s golden!
Ashley Cooley is a native North Texan, wife and mother of two, second grade teacher, dancer, Julia Child devotee, University of Alabama Alumni, and certified Pilates instructor featured in the Sept/Oct issue of Pilates Style. Ashley can be reached at email@example.com.