Of the many parents I’ve recently had the pleasure of speaking with, most believe that at the 18-month mark a child can begin to understand other people’s feelings and emotions. It’s at this point that parents start to teach their children that their behaviour can—and does—affect others.

Emily Post, “Queen of All Things Proper”, famously said, “Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use.”

We all know that in reality, this is often easier said than done. Children can act based on emotion—what parent hasn’t caught, out of the corner of their eye, their little one reacting to something that has made their eyes widen in horror?

Early life is all about nurturing imaginations and teaching basic rights and wrongs, so that children can eventually understand how to behave in social situations.

I think we would all agree that beyond being a good habit, good manners are a foundation for living with others.  Behaving politely is a way of life in civilized society—something that is applicable every day—and it’s important to start teaching good manners from as early an age as possible so that it becomes a natural part of children’s make-up.  Unfortunately these days, we never have to look far to find examples of questionable morals, even world leaders seem to have forgotten the art of kindness.

Good manners and good behaviour isn’t just good practice, but will open doors to your child’s social development. An ill-mannered child is a turnoff to adults and kids alike; while children aren’t likely to be offended by a playmate that doesn’t to say “please,” they won’t like the company of a child who doesn’t know how to share or take turns. It may sound obvious, but if you are able to encourage the use of “sorry” and “thank you,” then your children become more socially approachable.

What is important to realize is that learning manners is a lifelong education. The process won’t happen overnight, andwill require reinforcement and patience. By reading children bedtime stories that they can understand, and introducing one new social skill a month (for example, teaching your 4-year-old to say “May I please…?” and “Thank you” when asking for something) makes the process easier for everyone. Remember there is only so much a small child can take in, much less do, so don’t expect your 4-year-old to be using the correct cutlery, but he or she can learn how to sit happily at the table for a limited period of time.

A quick question: how is your behaviour? Children are a sponge for knowledge and learning habits, so we need to lead by example. This does not necessarily mean it’s just about how you ask for the salt at the dinner table—it goes beyond that. How do you behave when being approached in social situations, how do you speak with staff at a restaurant, or a sales assistant in a store?

Acquiring good manners takes lots of practice and reinforcement, and doubling up on sensibilities that for many, particularly in the internet and iPhone age, seem to have been forgotten.

Spending time with your children should be a joyful experience, and their learning process can be wholly inclusive, encouraging and fun. As hectic as we may be in our work lives, whether it’s playing with them for a period of time or sitting down with a short story when tucking them into bed, by teaching good manners through social and personal interaction, you can build strong relationships and memories that will last forever.

Written by R. E. Fisher, author of the BOBBY & MORPH collection, a contemporary approach to promoting kindness and good manners through the eyes of two adorable dogs. Since publication in 2017, his heart-warming children’s books have been read by children all over the United Kingdom and have been described as ‘modern classics’. He can be reached via www.bobbyandmorph.com.

Read more:

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Toddler episodes – sharing and staring

10 frustrating things that British toddlers do

Encouraging reading and writing in your preschooler

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