Where have good manners gone? If you’re over fifty, you probably remember your home as a place in which manners were the norm. You were taught etiquette, to say please and thank you, you were taught to address adults respectfully, and you were taught table manners. For the most part you learned these manners by watching your family members use them. Men opened doors for ladies, parents used their knives and forks properly and polite introductions were made when guests arrived in the home.
Sadly today, manners seem to have gone by the wayside. You might even think that they have become “old hat.” When an attitude of “anything goes” dominates popular thinking we see a decline in the use of old-fashioned manners. To be fair, some of the old ways of men doing things for women may not be happily accepted by today’s more independent women, but respect and kindness never go out of style.
It would seem that many adults today desire a return to a world in which respect and kindness reign. When we’re treated rudely or disrespectfully in a business establishment, we’re not likely to continue doing business there. When we see drivers shouting obscenities and even engaging in road rage incidents, we might surmise that many people are living with so much stress and are so sure their agenda is more important than anyone else’s that they’ve lost sight of other’s rights and freedoms.
What to do? As parents and grandparents we can begin at home. Schools are doing quite a lot of teaching what may be called “life skills” such as hard work, diligence, respect and the like, but really, such teaching has to begin in the home to really become part of a child’s lifestyle. We need to model and remind children to use those manners we believe are important. So table manners are important, good behavior in public is to be taught and expected, speaking respectfully and waiting turns, and a whole array of other behaviors must be intentionally taught in the home.
As in any other learning, there will be times when children either forget or choose not to follow the rules. In those cases, parents and grandparents have the responsibility to remind and reteach the expectations of the family. Sometimes role playing is a good way to teach the desired behaviors. When Mom and Dad or Grandma and Grandpa “forget their manners” it is both a chance to laugh together and also a chance to encourage good and proper behavior.
Let’s not forget the stresses of our daily lives that perhaps our grandparents didn’t have. People who are hurried, worried or otherwise living a stressful life, tend to have shorter fuses. We need to look for opportunities to do kindnesses for one another and be patient even when we have a busy schedule. Have you ever experienced a random act of kindness from another individual? Has someone paid for your morning coffee anonymously? Have they given you their place in a line when they’ve seen you’re in a hurry? It doesn’t take much to show kindness to others and the act itself is freeing and encouraging. It’s also a powerful teaching tool for our children.
Let’s return to the civility of good manners. We may not require stilted language when speaking to one another or expect curtsies and bows, but can we at least be patient and kind and can we expect our children to do the same? I think we can and should, and I think we’ll all be happier for it.
Here are some titles of books written to teach manners to children. Reading one of these books with your children is a good way to open discussion on the expectations you have in your home.
Manners Can Be Fun by Munro Leaf
365 Manners Kids Should Know by Sheryl Eberly
Everyday Graces by Karen Santorum
Dude, That’s Rude by Pamela Espeland
Manners by Aliki
Manners At School by Carrie Finn