Manners:  Teaching Magic Words and Magic Behavior

[Moore, T. 2002. Manners: Teaching Magic Words and Magic Behavior. In Children and Families, 16 (Winter): 12, Alexandria, VA: NHSA] A friend recalled the adventure of taking two-year-old Noah to a buffet restaurant. Noah loved the fried rice. Everyone in the restaurant knew that, because as soon as Noah finished his portion, he shouted, "MORE RICE!" (My friend started calling her son Henry the 8th.) Recently I met a four-year-old who had a different take on manners. This boy had learned etiquette so thoroughly he held open a door for me and refused to walk through before I did. Even though I invited him to go first, he wouldn’t budge until he could follow me. Manners are important to many people. I agree that children - and adults - can go farther in the world if they are mannerly. People are more likely to listen to what they have to say. Manners help us build stronger relationships. Most pre-schoolers, of course, are similar to Noah, with little awareness or experience of manners in a group setting. We can help children be successful by giving them information on what kind of behavior is expected of them. Before you begin teaching manners, speak with parents about what makes for good manners in their culture. In some places, saying "sir" and "ma’am" is a sign of respect. In others, it’s not expected. Where you live, is patting a child on the head considered rude? Should children look their teachers and elders in the eyes, or not? See what parents think, and be open to different definitions. Then try these ideas: * The greeting. Good manners begin with a friendly greeting at the start of the day. Encourage children to say "hello," and to respond when adults talk to them. * The magic words. When children are sharing materials, encourage them to say "please," "thank you," and "you’re welcome." Snack time is also a prime setting for teaching magic words. * Respecting elders. Encourage children to use Mr., Ms., Mrs., or Dr. when adults are introduced that way. This helps both the older person and the younger one. The older person receives respect, and the younger learns that adults are valued members of the community. * Don’t discriminate between genders. Let the girls hold open the door sometimes. Convey the message that it’s good manners to hold open the door, no matter who does it. * Teach manners throughout the day. If a boy doesn’t want to play a certain game with a friend, help the boy respond in a polite way. During circle time, ask children to raise their hands to indicate they want to speak. * Make it a job. Incorporate manners in your weekly "jobs" for children. Each week, a different child could have the job of holding open the door for others. Perhaps another child could be in charge of distributing crayons, and hear "thank you" for her efforts. * Teach by example. Show children that you cover your mouth when you cough, or your nose when you sneeze. * Let children help set the rules. With your students, create a list of rules for manners. Post the rules in class. * Be courteous to your students. Manners go both ways. The children will remember how they good they felt when you treated them respectfully. * Ask parent-educators to talk with parents about what children are learning. Parents can reinforce the new behaviors at home. * Encourage thinking along with manners. Manners are key to helping children develop interpersonal skills. But they do not replace critical thinking. Encourage children to share their ideas. Demonstrate how we listen to each person’s ideas, even if we disagree. What you teach children today will help them years from now, as they move through school and out into the world. Most employers want well-mannered, educated, creative people for high-level positions develop social and emotional competence. Most of all, enjoy yourself. Take photos. Bring noisemakers. And don’t forget to send me an invitation! © Thomas Moore, 2002 Thomas Moore, Ph.D is a keynote speaker, workshop leader, early childhood consultant, and children’s recording artist. He is author of Gryphon House award-winning teacher resource books "Where is Thumbkin?" and "Do You Know the Muffin Man?". He is contributing author of Wright Group/McGraw-Hill’s curriculum, DLM Early Childhood Express and author of their literacy series "Music, Movement and More". He has also produced ten recordings for children.