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How Good Manners can Lead to Good Behavior


Everyone wants a child with good manners. Please, thank you, you're welcome, mouths closed when chewing, grocery shopping without "MOMMY CAN WE GET THIS?" But how do we get there? How do we go from being toddlers with no concept of a universe outside our own needs and desires - which are often the same thing - to adults who hold doors open for those walking behind us?

First: Define "Good Behavior"

"Good" isn't specific enough. Ask 50 people what "good behavior" means and you'll likely get 50 different answers. But, in the case of children, "good behavior" usually means they act in a way that avoids annoying the adults around them. They refrain from running in the library, they shake hands and make eye contact when meeting new people, they avoid bathroom humor at the dining table and (in most families) they don't curse in front of Grandma.

Lead by Example

Humans are primates. We learn through imitation. This means that the way we behave and treat other people is the way our children will, too. If we want our children to interact politely, we must stay conscious of the way in which we interact. We must refrain from shouting obscenities at the people who cut us off in traffic and use basic etiquette phrases like "please," "thank you," "you're welcome" and "gesundheit/bless you." And we must use these phrases and behaviors not just in front of our children, but with them, too. We must say thank you when they hand us a half-chewed piece of bagel, insisting we eat their snack, even if inside we recoil at the feeling of wet bread.

Treat Children How You'd Treat Anyone Else

Your one-year-old has just grabbed the television remote and started slobbering on it. While this is developmentally appropriate, it's gross and potentially hazardous. If your partner started doing something gross and potentially hazardous, what would you do? You'd have a discussion, right? Show your child the same respect you'd show anyone else. Instead of grabbing the remote away without a word, potentially sparking a tantrum, have an age-appropriate discussion. "That's icky, honey. How about we put it away and you can chew on this instead."

Know the Rules, in Order to Break Them

Cultural expectations dictate how we interact in any given situation, and appropriate behavior varies based on venue. Americans generally frown upon belching in nice restaurants, but not at sporting events. In the case of instilling manners, it's not so much a matter of following Emily Post's advice to the letter, but knowing when and where one may bend or break the rules. And those rules change over time. Including one's registry information in wedding invitations was once considered gauche, and some families still balk at the idea, but it's no longer universally considered rude.

Molding behavior and instilling manners is a constantly evolving process that takes patience, willpower and time. But, like anything we teach our children, the payoff makes that effort worthwhile. Hearing your toddler say, "BRESHOO" to a sneezing stranger, knowing you taught him that, gives one a wonderful feeling of accomplishment and pride.

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