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Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Back to the Basics: Manners 101 (By Anshu Basnyat, LCPC)

    Humans are social beings.  We thrive when we have good relationships with people.  Strong bonds with people take time, effort, and skills. The building blocks of good relationships are good manners.  Manners are more than just being “nice.”  Without using good manners, it will be very difficult to establish rapport with people and cultivate a lasting friendship.When we use good manners (e.g. please, thank you, good eye contact, etc.), we are essentially communicating to the other person that they are important, valued, interesting, respected, etc.  In other words, we validate them as being worthy of our time and effort. This in turn does wonders for a blossoming friendship!

     Everyone wants to feel appreciated and validated.  It is a thirst that we all need to quench whether we admit it or not.  As a parent, we have to help our children understand this so they are able to empathize and build healthy friendships.  To do this, a child has to do more than use their staple manners such as “please” and “thank you.”  This is not to downplay the importance of these very basic manners, but to understand that there are other basic manners that are required in positive human interactions. However, even though these basic manners are learned very early on, they still need to be reinforced throughout childhood so they are being used regularly to foster good relations.   Below you will find five more important manners that foster positive human interactions that may be overlooked by parents.  This is not an all inclusive list, but a good start in teaching our kids good manners!

5 Manners Your Child Should Know: 

1.    Introducing yourself.   Once a child is in a formal school setting, it is a good time to start this skill. During these years, they are meeting new people who they will see on a regular basis.  In other words, this is when they start making friends. 

     Some things a child needs to consider when introducing themselves is whether they actually want to meet the new person, decide on a good time to do it, actually walk up to the person and introduce themselves, and wait for the other person to respond.  This also helps in knowing what to do when someone comes to introduce themselves to them.  Children often do not shake hands with each other unless they are older. However, depending on whether the child seems mature or “ready,” parents may want to encourage shaking hands with adults.  The parent and child can role-play this at home if there is an upcoming event where the child will meet a new person like at a party.  When a child introduces themselves without much prompting, they will feel proud of themselves.  This is a great way to build self-esteem, assertiveness skills, and appropriate risk-taking, which are very important in good mental health and relationship building.

     One precaution would be when there is a safety concern when a child introduces themselves like during a telephone call from a stranger.  Here, the parent would have to not only talk about stranger danger, but also make sure the child is ready to handle taking phone calls.  Again, role-playing and then observing the child navigate the phone interaction would be a good teaching tool.  The parents should first instruct the child to not give their name when the caller asks “who is this?” rather the child should first get that information from the caller.  Taking down the information like the caller’s name and number would be the next step. Finally, ending the call by letting the caller know the message will be passed on and thanking them.  To successfully handle a phone call independently, the child really should be able to listen and write well. However, they can always hang up if they feel uncomfortable at any point. There is no specific age when this should happen, but parental instincts can guide you.
2.    Maintaining eye contact.  In most Western cultures, maintaining eye contact during a social exchange is a sign of respect and conveys that the listener is interested.  However, in some Eastern cultures, it may be a sign of disrespect.  This would be useful information to have when interacting with people.  Having said that, if you are raising a child in a culture where maintaining good eye contact is important, then by all means this should be encouraged. Explain that good eye contact conveys respect, interest, and fosters good communication in maintaining friends.  Also, let them know that if you do not look at the person speaking or when listening, then the other person’s feelings may be hurt because this is rude behavior.  Gentle reminding and practicing this skill at home will be helpful. 

3.    Apologizing. Children need to first understand that everyone makes mistakes. Then, they need to learn that when we make mistakes, we need to apologize for it.  This is about being accountable for our behaviors and making amends when necessary.  Nobody wants to be friends with someone who cannot admit their mistakes.  With that being said, forcing your child to say “sorry” is counterproductive.  Essentially, when an apology is forced, then it is not meaningful and “fake” for lack of a better word.

     Additionally, the forced apology situation opens another can of worms where the parent and child interaction now becomes negative. Instead, a parent may ask if the child wants to apologize and then gently encourage them to do so.  If your child insists on being “right” and does not feel they need to apologize, you could just simply tell your child “I understand, I cannot force you to apologize if you honestly feel you did not do anything wrong.” Another way to respond is to let your child know that they can apologize later if they want to.  You may want to add in a shrug with a smile too so the other child or their parent know that you tried your best. You may be pleasantly surprised with what may happen next! 

4.    Giving and Accepting Compliments.  Who doesn’t like to get compliments? They are an ego boost! Almost everyone likes to receive compliments, but they may not know how to handle it in a socially-appropriate way because they may feel embarrassed or other emotions. This good manner of giving and accepting goes hand in hand.

     First, model to your child how to give a compliment to others by giving them compliments on a regular basis.  Then, ask them how they felt when they were paid a compliment.  Usually, it is either pleasant or embarrassing.  Next, discuss ways to accept a compliment like saying “thank you” or also giving credit to another person if it was a team effort like “Joe helped too.”  Lastly, have your child give a compliment to someone (you or sibling) to practice this skill.  Usually, when it is a young school-age child, they may first focus on physical attributes like “I like your clothes/hair/etc.” This is perfectly fine and they will later learn to compliment on things like effort (e.g. working hard on a project) or personality traits (e.g. being thoughtful).  Aside from being an ego boost, giving and accepting compliments really enhance a social interaction in a positive way.

5.    Smiling. I believe this is a manner that is often overlooked.  We need to encourage our children to smile more often.  Smiles are priceless and reap great rewards! There is much research to support the notion that a simple smile has many benefits (  Just think how it makes you feel when someone flashes you a smile for no reason at all. Besides, it is the most inexpensive way to improve one’s looks, don’t you think? :-)      :-)      :-)      :-)      :-)      :-)      :-)      :-)    :-)      :-)      :-)      


  1. I have never believed in forcing a child to apologize. I worked at some places that would force children to apologize to end a situation (like hitting someone). I was forced to apologize for things when I was little and it didn't make me learn anything about being sorry but did make me feel like my feelings/opinions in certain situations were not as important as others...

  2. @C: I completely agree with you! A forced apology makes it lose the value of a "true" apology, does not validate either child's feelings, and potentially fosters dishonesty or being disingenuous. Of course, parents who force their children to apologize have good intentions and mean for their child to practice good social skills. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences!