“Wow, give me!” That’s the three-word response my mom got after having bought almost half a toy store for my son’s fifth birthday.
And that’s when I saw my son’s behaviour, or the lack of it, through my mom’s eyes. Left me wondering about all the sessions on good manners that I’ve had with him!
“Teaching children about acceptable social behaviour can be an uphill task if all we do is sermon them,” says Shradha from Notre Dame Academy, Patna.
My recent experiences with my son have taught me that manners are more about practise than mere knowledge.
Personal ambitions aside (because I want my mom to compliment my son’s good behaviour the next time), I’m sure all of us want well-mannered children because good behaviour leads to several positives in life.
11 Awesome Tips To Inculcate Good Manners & Healthy Habits In Your Child
1) Monitor weekly discipline and reward kids!
“I have almost a dozen stars on the ropes now.” Geetanjali has a very interesting take on rewarding good behaviour with her kids and the ones that she helps take care of.
She’s hung colourful ribbon ropes on the playroom window—one ribbon per child.
- Every Monday, she talks to children about an aspect of good behaviour. For example, last Monday she spoke about apologising, but with the intent of not repeating the act.
- Starting Tuesday, every child gets a star on the rope if he/she apologises on realising any wrongdoing.
- Geetanjali says that these are not grave mistakes and makes sure that children don’t feel pressurised or terrorised.
- There’s very little sermonising required as older children keep reminding the younger ones about the rules made every Monday and even if it is to gain a star on the rope, children model good behaviour throughout the week.
Slowly, a week’s activity will become the habit of a lifetime. Fingers crossed!
2) Use a pretend-play activity to teach good manners
“It’s very clichéd when I say it, but modelling good manners means teaching good manners.”
Shradha says that while parents teach children to behave properly, they should be modelling or displaying the same behaviour as well.
But don’t we all know that?
However, when children are rude or impolite despite that, we need to figure out better means to push the point across. I’m your guest.
“We always preach and say that when aunty, uncle, grandma, grandpa, or whoever visits, you should be polite. How about showing them how to do it?” Geetanjali runs a home-crèche in Andheri, Mumbai, and has an interesting perspective on dramatising good manners.
What do you do?
- Throw a make-believe tea party.
- One parent acts as a guest, while the other acts himself/herself.
- The child will be the host.
- When one parent behaves like the guest, the other parent behaves like the host and greets the guest. The child looks on as the scene progresses.
- Then the child is supposed to invite the guest inside and offer the guest a seat.
As the scene plays on, parents can introduce many instances and teach the required or appropriate behaviour for those situations.
“We presume that kids are mannerless on purpose but that’s not right. Mostly, it’s because they don’t know what is expected of them,” says Geetanjali. “Dramatising shows them exactly how to behave and they retain that.”
3) Make your child the Manners Monitor at home
This is an age-old technique of making children learn things they otherwise don’t want to learn. Just make them in charge of something and responsibility triggers the will to set things right.
“I always say that the naughtiest kid in the class should be the monitor,” says Shradha.
What do you do?
- Tell your child that he/she is the monitor of the house and has to ensure that everyone is well-mannered and well behaved is his/her job.
- Make a lot of noise while eating and make your child monitor of the table as well.
- Let him/her correct you at every point where you have displayed bad manners.
“You will be amazed at the kind of points your child raises and the self-realisation he/she goes through,” says Shradha.
4) Secret winks to teach patience
“I love the way my kids smile the ‘I-know-this-secret’ kind of a smile when I wink,” says Geetanjali. Geetanjali has instructed children that if they wish to speak to her, they should ask once.
This rule applies mainly when she is talking to someone else and they want to interrupt.
After they ask, if she winks at them, it means that they have to wait and if she doesn’t, then she talks to them.
Here’s what you do
- Make a secret sign with your child. Like Geetanjali winks, you can have a secret word or maybe a hand action.
- When your child interrupts conversations, use the sign if you want him/her to wait.
- Children love keeping secrets and when they see you using your secret language/code, they enjoy waiting their turn to speak instead of interrupting.
“Basically they want attention and the secret code or action gives them that. After that, they wait,” says Geetanjali.
However, she insists that we should not make children wait too long after using the secret code else the entire reason behind teaching manners is lost.
Makes sense, doesn’t it?
5) Teach gratitude through ‘Thank You’ cards
“I don’t think anyone of us does that anymore.” Shradha is talking about writing thank you notes in the modern world of messages and emails.
Since we are no longer in the habit of writing notes, our children hardly get to experience the thrill of doing that.
So how about starting a new ritual and having fun writing thank you notes?
What do you do?
- With your child, cut several pieces of coloured paper to write notes on.
- Once you have the pieces, show him/her how to write Thank You on them.
- If you have an older child who knows how to spell and write on his/her own, ask him/her to decorate the thank you cards.
- We are trying to get the child make cards which have taken time and effort.
- Store the cards in an easy-to-access drawer.
“I made my son give one thank you card to the car washer the next day,” says Geetanjali.
- Children hand out handmade cards to people they want to thank.
- It’s fun for children to hand out cards even if they don’t really understand the true meaning of a Thank You note.
- Slowly, as they keep handing out cards, explain to them that these cards denote gratitude to someone who is helping them out.
- You can also tell them that instead of handing out cards, even saying a thank you works.
“They will try saying it and slowly, it becomes a good habit,” concludes Geetanjali.
6) Everyday wishes – tops the good manners list!
Wishing each other well tops the list of good manners. Tell your child that just like we wish on birthdays, every morning is a special morning and every night is important for good and healthy sleep.
Model good behaviour and wish each other, especially your little one, every morning and night, and soon this habit will develop.
“Don’t force the child to say ‘good morning,’ but simply greet him/her. Children might wake up a little cranky and may not wish you immediately,” explains Geetanjali.
What matters is that you display good manners with them and they know the difference between good and bad behaviour. Agree?
7) Enact scenarios to check their response
“Nothing excites children more than drama. Why do you think TV works universally?” Geetanjali is suggesting another activity that involves drama and action.
Let’s list it out!?
This is like a game of dumb charades.
- Make a mental list or write a few instances where you feel your child displays bad manners.
- On small chits of paper, note those instances in simple sentences. For example, ‘Threw a chocolate wrapper on the floor’ for when your child refused to use the dustbin.
- Get an empty bowl and put the folded chits into it.
- Ask your child to pick up and handover a chit without opening it and mamma/papa will enact the situation.
- Your child has to look at you enacting and then guess the act.
- Once the child guesses correctly, he/she has to tell you the correct manners for that situation.
“Trust me, all of them knew the right manners but were ignoring them till we played this game,” says Geetanjali about the kids in her crèche.
8) Use listing technique – put an end to over inquisitiveness and teach self-control
“They are just very inquisitive and that borders on the line between good and bad manners.”
Shradha is talking about a very common kiddie tendency of touching everything that they see, especially if it is not in their house.
Since children are just being inquisitive, we can’t really admonish them for this habit. What we can do, in a fun way, is to explain what’s okay and what’s not okay to touch.
- Make a list of things that attract your child in other people’s homes. If you don’t have a definite list, you can note their favourite things (attractions hardly change for kids).
- Tell your child that the two of you will be playing a game of touch-me-not for the next few days.
- Give your child an option of selecting a few things that you are not allowed to touch too. This adds to his/her self-worth.
- During the course of the game, if your child touches the banned items, he/she loses a point but if not, every day, a few points are added.
- At the end of the game, the person with the maximum number of points wins and gets a prize.
- You teach your child self-control. He/she is able to resist fidgeting with things.
- You can then channelise this control and discuss the habit of touching things in other people’s homes.
Once they gain enough control, it’s easier for them to be more well-mannered in the company of guests. Try it and see!
9) Offering a seat to the elderly – use fun reminders!
Leaving your chair for an older member to sit forms part of good behaviour and we need to make our kids learn this as naturally as possible.
“Reminders work very well for these things,” says Geetanjali. “But make reminders fun.”
Stand at ease
- Tell your child your age and the age of other family members in the house.
- If he/she understands numbers then this activity will be more fun.
- Explain that the person with the lowest age is the strongest. Invariably, children are the youngest in the house which means your child will understand that he/she is the strongest.
- Then explain that you are playing a game whereby whenever an older family member is standing; the youngest and strongest person offers them a seat.
- You will notice that your child offers his/her seat even if there are other vacant seats around.
- Slowly, you can make him/her understand that this logic applies anywhere he/she sees someone older standing when he/she is sitting.
- Also, explain that offering a seat is their task but taking or not taking the seat is the other person’s choice.
Kids love it when we tell them that they’re strong so this activity works wonders.
10) Phone habits through flashcards
A few days ago, my son rushed before me and picked up the incessantly ringing intercom.
Said “hello” followed by a “yes” and then thrust the phone in my hand.
“Teach your child manners to have a polite conversation over the phone,” says Geetanjali.
She was not only addressing me and my child but as a generic statement trying to convey that good manners reflect over the phone as well.
So what do we do for that?
Flashcards to the rescue
- Make a set of three flashcards.
- The first one says “May I know who’s calling?”
- The second one “May I take a message?”
- The third one “May I put you on hold?”
What do you do?
Let your child know what each flashcard says. For ease of memory, colour code the cards where red carries the first message, blue carries the second message, and so on.
- Ask a close friend or relative to call you, without your child’s knowledge.
- Let your child take the call. Flash the first card that asks for the identification of the caller. The child will find it fun and will ask the question.
- Flash the next one after which your child will ask for the message.
- Then before the child hands over the phone to you, flash the third one that says that the caller will have to wait/be on hold for a bit.
“Kids wait for the phone to ring so that they can practise these flashcard messages,” says Smriti, a zoologist and a mother.
11) Self-discipline, routine, and self-control for healthy living
“Children thrive on routine, discipline, and self-control,” says Mumbai-based entrepreneur Akriti Khanna who runs a private language training institute for school-going children.
She says that self-discipline has taken pivotal place especially in today’s times because children have multiple options for everything. “In face of temptation and options, only self-control comes to your aid,” she concludes.