Why I Built This Kit:
There’s no single source for teaching your children manners. Still, I don’t think it was until my first child turned two that it really hit me what a challenge it truly was going to be. I guess on some level I was kind of hoping that teaching manners would consist of a single instance of “Don’t do that – do this!” and battabing battaboom: instant polite child. The fact that you have to teach manners again and again and again and again didn’t really sink in for a while. Maybe the best way to inculcate them into the brains of the young is to tackle the subject from every possible angle. And as Judith Martin put it in Miss Manners’ Guide to Rearing Perfect Children, “Manners are the basis of civilized society, and passing on the civilization to the young, so that they do not run around in a natural and savage stage but can live easily and comfortably within the accumulated traditions and standards of their society, is what child-rearing is all about.” With that in mind here are some books, apps, videos, discussion starters, activities, and family experience to aid in “passing on civilization” to your own young.
Books Discussing This Theme
Goops And How to Be Them by Gelett Burgess
Why would we include a manners book from the year 1900? Because even after 114 years it’s still in print and people LOVE it. As the book says, “The Goops they lick their fingers,/And the Goops they lick their knives, /They spill their broth on the tablecloth -/Oh, they lead disgusting lives!” Too much fun. (ISBN: 978-1557093929)
No Slurping, No Burping: A Tale of Table Manners by Kara LaReau, ill. Lorelay Bove
There are few things kids love more than correcting their elders. So when the boorish father in this book (who appears to be very much in the vein of Homer Simpson) needs some tips on manners, his kids are there with the answer every time. A great way to teach what to do while also telling a fun story. (ISBN: 9781423157335)
Mary Wrightly, So Politely by Shirin Yim Bridges, ill. by Maria Monescillo
Makes the very necessary distinction between politeness and being a pushover. Mary Wrightly is an extremely polite little girl, but sometimes that means she’s ignored. The book shows perfectly the balance one must attain between politeness and making your wants and needs known. (ISBN: 9780547342481)
Thanks a Lot, Emily Post by Jennifer LaPue Huget, ill. by Alexandra Boiger
If you’d like something a little more irreverent for your kids, it’s hard to top this tongue-in-cheek tale of a harried mother and her politeness averse children. When mom gets a copy of an old Emily Post books and attempts to bend her children’s wills to the book’s lessons, nothing goes according to plan. (ISBN: 9780375838538)
Tea Rex by Molly Idle
An eminently droll little tale of what happens when you invite a T-Rex to your tea party. The humor at work here comes from the fact that the dino is more than willing to play by the rules, even if he breaks them left and right. (ISBN: 9780670014309)
How Do Dinosaurs Eat Their Food? by Jane Yolen, ill. Mark Teague
Bad behavior is quickly rectified by good in this installment in the highly successful dino series by Yolen and Teague. Any parent who has tried to address picky eating or why you should wear a bib will feel a groundswell of gratitude for the ideas espoused here. (ISBN: 9780439241021)
Dinner with the Highbrows by Kimberly Willis Holt, ill. by Kyrsten Brooker
When young Bernard is invited to dine with the fancy schmanzy Highbrows, his mother gives him a crash course in manners. Yet when it turns out that the Highbrows aren’t exactly the manners-obsessed hoity toities he expected, Bernard ends up teaching THEM a thing or two about how to behave at dinner. (ISBN: 9780805080889)
Manners Mash-Up: A Goofy Guide to Good Behavior featuring Tedd Arnold... [et al.]
Maybe the only manners book you’ll find that covers behavior in so many different places! From the swimming pool to the playground to the cafeteria, fourteen of today’s top illustrators bring to life the dos and don’ts of everyday behavior. (ISBN: 9780803734807)
Apps for Exploring This Theme
A Quest for Good Manners by Karin Lefranc, ill. Hannah Neale, developed by TaleSpring, Inc.
Princess Rosalind is on a mission. Thanks to her complete and utter lack of manners her mother has threatened to banish her beloved dragon unless she can find “Good Manners” in three days. Fun and funny, this is one of those apps that adults love just as much as children.
Parents Magazine has done an excellent job of creating some instructional videos on teaching manners to your children. Please check out the following:
Also, it’s a bit high on the cheese factor scale but this old Kidde Viddie from the early 90s does cover a lot of the basic manners rules you’ll want your kids to know. And it’s certainly more amusing to watch than most of the manners-related videos out there.
Parents Magazine also once posted a list of the 25 Manners Kids Should Know. Look through this list of the first ten and discuss each one of these with your kids. Which manners seem obvious? Which ones ridiculous? Which ones do they already do? Which ones do they need some help with? Are all these manners suggestions a good idea or are some strange?
- When asking for something, say "Please."
- When receiving something, say "Thank you."
- Do not interrupt grown-ups who are speaking with each other unless there is an emergency.
- If you do need to get somebody's attention right away, the phrase "excuse me" is the most polite way for you to enter the conversation
- When you have any doubt about doing something, ask permission first.
- Keep negative opinions to yourself, or between you and your friends, and out of earshot of adults.
- Do not comment on other people's physical characteristics unless, of course, it's to compliment them, which is always welcome.
- When people ask you how you are, tell them and then ask them how they are.
- When you have spent time at your friend's house, remember to thank his or her parents for having you over and for the good time you had.
- Knock on closed doors -- and wait to see if there's a response -- before entering.
Throw Your Own Tea Party
Choose a theme. Princesses? Dinosaurs? Fairies?
Choose a date and time.
Prepare your guest list. How many people would you like to invite?
Shop for your party supplies. Consider shopping for decorations, tea party favors, teacups, costumes, games, and fairy trinkets.
Make treat-bags. If you want something for the kids to take home, considering adding the following to the bags:
Cookies or biscuits in the shape of teapots or teacups
- Decorate for the tea party. Be sure to decide whether your party will be indoors or outdoors.
- Choose the music. Create a playlist of your own that will match the party's theme.
- Have some tea party related games. Some suggestions of game to play could include:
- A "Make Your Own Tea Party Hat" station
- Hula hoop
- Musical chairs
- Stack sugar cubes into a tower
- Relay races
- Dress-up clothes
- Prepare the food. Little edible items are often best. Consider including sandwiches, pastries, cupcakes, cakes, biscuits (cookies), candy, fruit, raisin toast, scones, etc. You might also include some of the foods below.
- Prepare the tea. For young children, make sure you stick with caffeine-free teas. For older children, make weak pots of tea. You might want to try:
- Rooibos, plain or vanilla flavored
- Herbal teas
- Fruit or flavored teas
- Plain, good quality tea
- Flavored black tea
- Green tea
- Help your guests with their tea. Be sure to remember that if the kids are too young to handle hot items, do not give them anything to hold on their own.
Try having toy tea sets on hand for the youngest children.
Help with teapot pouring for older children.
Have other drinks available for children who don't want the tea, such as juice, water, soft drinks, milk, etc. Serve pink lemonade or sparkling punch in the teapot for the very young. You can even call it "magic tea" and have each guest say what she thinks your magic tea tastes like (bubblegum, strawberry lollipops, candy canes, etc.).
Thank You Cards For Kids of All Ages
Years ago, my mother sat me down and told me how to write a thank you card. This wasn't just an exercise in decorum. Thank you cards are some of the earliest ways in which children learn the importance of expressing gratitude to other people. That hasty "Thank you" over Facetime or Skype can't really hold a candle to a physical card, written out by hand, and sent through good old-fashioned snail mail. But how do you even write a thank you card when you can hardly pen your own name? Some suggestions:
For Children Ages 2-4
Before kids are completely comfortable spelling out their names with those thick crayons they're still going to benefit from helping out with the thank you cards. They may even enjoy it! Get out a big piece of paper and have the kiddo help dictate what they got and why they're grateful (gentle prompting is going to be necessary here). After you've finished writing, trace the child's hand or have them "draw" their own picture at the bottom.
For Children Ages 4-6
Here's where creativity really shines. Who says a note has to be written? Kids these ages will really enjoy drawing a picture of the gift they received for the giver. Some will prefer simply to sign their own name. Whatever they choose, make sure they understand who the note is for and why they are making it.
For Children 7 and up
Here's where you'll want to establish a couple ground rules. As my mother always said, "You never begin a thank you note with the words 'thank you'." Sounds counterintuitive? It's not. A thank you note that just says, "Thank you for [blank] present" doesn't require any brain cells. But a thank you note that says why the child is grateful or how they'll use the gift? Suddenly it's not just an exercise in gratitude but a writing assignment to boot! Feel free to end with a thank you, by the way. By that point you'll have said what you needed to say.
We all want polite kids, but sometimes we forget how important it is to coach them before an event. Many is the child who is hastily thrown a set of manners before being placed in a stressful situation, whether it's a wedding or a fellow child's birthday party. Want a kid who acts correctly? Then you'll need to do your homework beforehand. Here are some suggestions for doing so:
Practicing Manners for . . . A Birthday Party
- Have the child help pick out the present for the party. Make it very clear to them that this is not a gift for them but for the child who is celebrating. When you bring it home, have them "help" wrap it as well, even if that just involves selecting the ribbon.
- Go over what happens at a party. How do you act when you're around other children? How do you act towards the birthday boy or girl? What do you do if you need to use the potty? What do you say to the host when you leave?
- As with any party, it's good to know who else will be there (and if parents are encouraged to stick around) beforehand. Speak with the parents giving the party so that there aren't any surprises on the day in question.
- Give the child the option of three different (and very nice) outfits to choose between before the party. Stress how looking your best is only polite.
- - Finally, go over what you say when you attend someone's birthday and how to act around the other guests.
Practicing Manners for . . . Eating at a Restaurant
- Make it clear that a lot of waiting is going to be involved. Go over ways to handle long waits (particularly when you're hungry), whether it's by reading books or coloring in coloring books.
- Go over the steps of what happens at a restaurant. Example: First the waiter comes. Then you put in your order. Then they take the order to the cook. Then the cook cooks the food. Then the cook lets the waiter know that the food is ready. Then the waiter brings the food to the table. Waiting is easier for kids who know that there's a process at work.
- Write out a pretend menu with pictures of the food for the child. Then pretend to be the waiter. You can have them "order" their food beforehand.
- Go over noise levels and what is and is not appropriate in a public situation.
Practicing Manners for . . . A Wedding
- If the child has an important role in the wedding (flower girl, ring bearer, etc.) then it will be important to go over the guidelines of what to expect and what to do. Please bear in mind that the younger the child the more likely the incipient chaos to come. Just as important is the role of the parent or guardian in coaching children who are NOT flower girls or ring bearers and who may be jealous of those children who are. Stressing the importance of being a guest may not sit well with such kids, but at least they'll be prepared when they see other kids walk the aisle.
- The art of staying silent during a ceremony may be torture for some kids. If a kid has had a lot of practice with silence in a group situation (in church, perhaps) then they may do well. However, be prepared to let them know the expectations beforehand, then bring lots of distractions (books, crayons, games, etc.).
- Go over with the children the different parts of the wedding and what to expect. Patience is easier when there's a plan in place and the child knows about it already.
- Eating at a wedding should not be too different from eating at a restaurant. Follow the same expectations there.
- Most of all, let them have some fun! If there's dancing, let 'em cut loose. There are few finer things in this world than children dancing at weddings.
Three Easy Things You Can Do Every Day To Inspire Good Manners in Your Kids
Reinforce manners everywhere and all the time.There's no moment in the day when manners can't be taught. Whether it's the considerate way to use the potty or when someone says hello to you on the street, opportunities for good manners abound.
- Don't be afraid to explain why.It's one thing to tell your child to catch their sneeze in the crook of their arm. It's another thing to explain why. Even if you have to repeat yourself, five, ten, even fifty times, eventually the lesson will be taught. And if they know why they're doing something they're far more likely to repeat that good behavior in the future.
- Finally, the big one.Be a good example. No matter how they seem to ignore you, kids learn by example. So if they hear you being rude to the repairman, the housekeeper, or that guy who just cut you off in traffic, it counts.
About Betsy B.
Betsy is currently New York Public Library’s Youth Materials Collections Specialist. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, reviewed for Kirkus and The New York Times and has also written the picture book Giant Dance Party, illustrated by Brandon Dorman. In 2014, Candlewick will publish Wild Things: Acts of Mischief in Children's Literature which she co-wrote with Jules Danielson and Peter Sieruta. You can follow Betsy on Twitter @FuseEight or at her blog A Fuse #8 Production hosted by School Library Journal.