While we are no longer in the era of white gloves and hats, we still have a responsibility to teach our children basic manners. Just how basic is basic, though? After all, depending on your child's age, some rules are easy to teach but others are developmentally impossible. Take this guide as a suggestion for the top 10 manners your kids should master by the end of kindergarten:
1. Saying "Please"
Saying "please" should begin as soon as your child is able to ask for something. If she's old enough to ask for sippy cup refills, she should be able to tack a "please" onto the request.
2. Saying "Thank You"
Following close on the heels of "please," your child should be able to say "thank you" whenever she is given something. She should be able to say thank you to her parents, her teachers, other adults, and her own friends.
3. No Interruptions
This one is harder for kids to grasp, but your child should not interrupt adults when they are talking. If you can at least teach your child to say, "Excuse me, " before steamrollering your conversation, consider it a lesson taught.
4. Holding the Door for Others
This is so basic, but it's a breach of etiquette that happens all the time--even between adults. Just observe it in a busy mall on a Saturday. It's so much more pleasant if your child learns to hold the door for you and for others. It's even better if you can teach them not to bolt in and out of elevators.
5. Sharing with Others
Your child begins developing this ability the moment you host a play date and someone else gets to play with her toys. Sharing is an important social skill that will be further developed as she goes through school, but it's never too early to learn.
6. Using an "Inside Voice"
Establish a rule in your house--shouting, yelling, and hollering is for outdoor use only. Inside, a normal--or even, dare we say, quiet--voice should be the norm. Again, this is a social skill that is reinforced in school, but it's one that should be started at home.
7. Showing Gratitude Towards Others
Graciousness is another unjustly overlooked social skill, but in today's harried world, it's one that goes a long way towards making us all feel better. Teach your child to write thank you notes. Make sure that she says "thank you" to others for everything--even the unwanted oddball gift from her distant aunt. These little touches are so civil and yet so often ignored.
8. Walk, Not Run
Running is great exercise...for the great outdoors. The great indoors is made for walking. End of story.
9. Basic Table Manners
Use a napkin, sit still in your chair, chew with your mouth closed, no smacking, no slurping. We are so often on the go, dining whenever and wherever we can, that these basic table manners are often disregarded but they are crucial to social acceptance. And they make mealtime so much more pleasant for everyone.
As a parent, you are responsible for installing a kind of social filter in your child, one that teaches her sensitivity towards others. This means that your child may be curious about people who look different or sound different than she does, but it's not OK to point at a stranger and loudly describe his differences. Detailed explanations of race, handicaps, or other obvious differences are best had in the privacy of your home.
If this seems like a tall order, try tackling one area at a time. Work on table manners first, then move on to thank you notes. It's worth the extra effort to raise a kind, polite and sensitive child.
Sarah Baker is a documentary filmmaker and writer currently living in New Bern, NC. Her first book, Lucky Stars: Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell, will be published December 2009. Read more about her.