In today’s fast pace world where television and movies celebrate rudeness, old-fashioned courtesy is still in demand. A polite child is more welcome in society and more at peace with the world.
The most important way to teach manners is to set a good example. When the parents are unfailingly polite, the children often follow in their footsteps. However, a lesson can introduce children to the basics of courtesy and allow them to practice their skills. It is also a good time to set the standards for your family. This family night lesson plan will help your children become courteous members of their home and society.
As the family gathers for Family Night, demonstrate exceptionally good manners. Greet each person warmly, thank him for coming, and help him to settle in comfortably. Ask if he’d like something to drink. As family members carry out assignments, thank them.
When the lesson begins, ask the children to comment on your behavior at the start of the meeting. Did they notice anything special you did? Help them realize you were being a courteous host and ask them to share what things you did to make people feel welcome and comfortable.
Role play with your spouse or an older child—or even a doll-being a rude host. Redo the opening, but be very rude to the other person or doll. Make sure they know it’s a game. Ask your children which way they prefer to be greeted. Why? How does it feel to be treated with courtesy.
Show a poster with a list of places your family goes, including your home. Examples might include: Home, church, grocery store, school. Keep the list fairly short. If you have young children, make large cards with the same places, and possibly pictures, and give each child a card. When you talk about a place, let the child with that card stand up in front of the family and show it. This allows them to move around a little.
Save home for last. Begin with one of the other places you often go, such as a store. For each location, create a list of situations for your children to discuss and then role-play.
Grocery store: Going down aisles—Walk. Don’t run. Stand to the side, not in the center of the aisle. Be aware of others who might need to look at products you’re blocking or who might need to get away from you. Say, “Excuse me” when you need to walk in front of someone who is searching the aisles for a product. Make sure your cart doesn’t bump into others.
Standing in lines anywhere: Wait quietly. It’s okay to talk, bus use soft voices and don’t talk about things that might offend others around you or that are private. Don’t push. Don’t complain about how slow the line is. Don’t ask several times for your parents to buy things for you that you see in line.
When you get to the home, think about the various circumstances your children experience and focus on one or two at a time. Have future lessons on other parts of home courtesy. For instance, you might begin with a lesson on courteous speech. Put strips of paper into a box and have your children take turns drawing one out and giving a courteous example. For instance, one strip might say, “Ask your mother for a cookie.” The child should turn to the mother and pretend to ask politely for a cookie. Praise correct answers and gently correct those that are not appropriate. Other situations might include:
Your meal is over. You would like to leave the table. Demonstrate what you will do. (Thank you for dinner. It was very good. May I please be excused?”)
Your sister helped you with your homework. What do you say? (Thank you so much for helping me. I understand everything much better now.)
You’re trying to build something and are having trouble. How do you ask your brother to help you? (David, do you have time to help me with this birdhouse, please?)
You ask your father to play a game with you but he is working on an important project for his job and has to finish it today. When he says he can’t play right now, how do you respond? (I’m sorry. I didn’t realize you were on a schedule. Is there anything I can do for you so you’ll have enough time to finish your project?)
Your sister got a new haircut. You think it looks ugly. When she asks you how you like it, what will you do? (Discuss appropriate ways to be kind and why it will not be helpful to make her feel insecure about her hair.)
After you feel your children understand appropriate behavior, ask them how they think it would change their home if everyone always behaved politely.
Share the following story with older family members:
When a story circulates in various formats for years and years, you know that it must have a soul. I have seen this one resurface countless times, and perhaps it has a universal message we all need to listen to:
Two friends are walking along a city street one day when they pass by one of the countless street vendors offering their wares. One of the friends stops to buy a newspaper from the vendor and speaks to him with courtesy and friendliness. In response, the vendor snorts something inaudible and simply scowls darkly. The friend smiles and wishes him a happy day before walking away.
The companion, noting this interchange, comments, “That fellow is a little grouchy today, isn’t he?”
“Oh, he is always that way,” said the friend.
“Then why are you so friendly to him?” was the response.
“Why not?” responded the friend, “Why should I let him decide how I am going to act?”
The key word here is the word “act.” The story seems to be telling us that life is an opportunity for action, not just reaction. Many people react to the discourtesy and rudeness of others by responding in kind. It becomes a vicious circle, a destructive chain of linked reactions leading nowhere.
Instead, we need to show leadership by modeling the kind of behavior that makes positive acts infectious and pervasive. The famous death-camp survivor, Viktor Frankel, pointed out the one overarching freedom that all of us possess—the freedom to respond in a proactive way, according to our vision of how life should unfold, no matter what the circumstances. His life was a lasting memorial to what he called “response-ability.” We all have the freedom to set the tone, exemplify the courteous demeanor, and model the kind of civil dialogue that will make the world a better place to be (Ed J. Pinegar, excerpted from a forthcoming book called, “What We Need to Know and Do” by Ed J. Pinegar and Richard J. Allen.)
Over the next several weeks, be alert to times when your children are behaving politely and compliment them. Be certain your own behavior is equally polite.
Follow up this family night with a manners dinner the next week. Discuss appropriate dinner manners in advance. There are many children’s books on the subject. Mail special invitations to your children to highlight how special the meal will be and note on it the dress standard is to be dressy. Require them to RSVP and teach them how to do it.
Set the table as if you were expecting very important guests, which you are—your family. Prepare a meal the children will like but that is considered special and usually for company. Tell the children you will be instructing them through the meal about how to act, and they must think of it as a training meal, not as criticism. Don’t correct everything you see, however. Demonstrate what to do as you go along—where to place the napkin, what to do with elbows, and so on. Then correct only one or two things, so the meal is a pleasant one. Make an advance rule that all conversation must be cheerful and that no one must monopolize the conversation. The parents should take control of the conversation by starting off with a pleasant subject and having other happy topics ready to pull out as needed.
Have a similar meal once a month. The first time the meal progresses without anyone having to be corrected, take them out to eat as a reward. Don’t promise it in advance. Instead, surprise them with the information that a special outing is planned to thank the children for doing so well with their table manners.
Each time you take your children into public, review appropriate behavior in advance. Correct behavior gently and privately as you progress through the outings. Afterwards, hold a polite review of their behavior, selecting only one thing to correct if any correction at all is needed. Be sure each review includes more praise than correction.
For more on this subject, read Manners Please.