Ten Things to Teach Your Kids (Besides “Please and Thank You”)
A little courtesy goes a long way…such a long way, in fact, that it eventually finds it’s way back to you in the way that you’re treated by others.
If it’s true that something that makes your routine easier can be considered a life hack, then these are the ultimate hacks, because not only do they improve the quality of the user’s life, they improve the day of the people with whom the user…. well, interfaces.
We intended that our kiddos learn these house rules to show respect for others…but—once put into regular practice—they had an unexpected effect. People took note and offered all kinds of very positive feedback…to us and them.
This post is not about fish forks, pinkies up, or please-and-thank-you basics (although the world could use a brush up on the latter). They’re things that make a difference by making a lasting impression. That impression helps your kids.
One thing about manners: they do very definitely vary from culture to culture…I’ve listed some of our favorites that have been well received in the United States.
Here are 10 difference makers…(even though they shouldn’t be that unusual)…that are important for children AND adults. In no particular order:
Eye Contact (North America)
Kids, and many adults, need to learn to “look people in the eye” when they are speaking. As a society, we are communicating more and more through our devices, so this is becoming a lost art.
Avoiding eye contact is often the result of shyness and insecurity. However any internet search on “eye contact” will yield dozens of sites that discuss how vital it is to create positive interactions.
Show this courtesy to the person with whom you are speaking and you will be perceived as being more personable, likable and competent. (And before you get offended and call me judgmental… don’t blame me, I’m just the messenger.)
How to teach this to your kids? After you meet with someone, ask your child to tell you the color of the person’s eyes. It becomes a game while teaching a life skill at the same time.
“I Beg Your Pardon”
This grandpa-sounding phrase was adopted by many of our daughter’s teen-age friends because they liked what happened when they said it.…(really)!
The kids said the words felt old-fashioned and awkward to use at first, but once they got used to it saying it with sincerety, people actually commented that they appreciated their refreshing alternative to “Huh” or “What?”.
Teach it to a four-year old and the world is her oyster.
Shake Hands (US custom)
Why do we teach this to our dogs and neglect to teach it to our children, or worse, forget to do it ourselves
Learning to shake hands at a young age is like preparing for a test when you know what the questions will be.
In any given day you may have to meet people, run into someone you haven’t seen in while, offer congratulations, say goodbye… a firm, warm handshake is the answer to any of those situations. As an added bonus, a handshake is the safer alternative to the social hug or cheek kiss…both of which are often uncomfortable and can be perceived as invasive. (Note: take it easy, though, on the elderly, who often have difficulty with arthritis.
Add eye contact to your handshake for bonus points. Score an out-of-the-park home run if you teach your child before kindergarten to meet someone, shake hands, look them in the eye AND say the words “how do you do.”
GET. THE. DOOR.
You’ve had it happen to you. You’re right behind someone entering a store and WHAM.
None for you, Gretchen Weiners!
Teach your kids to take note of people behind them and make sure they hold the door. Better still, have them learn to step up and actively open the door for someone, especially a parent with young children or the elderly (which, to children, is nearly everyone). Aside from being courteous, it’s a great lesson in deference.
Usually this effort is rewarded with a grateful thank you, and if it is isn’t, well, that’s a lesson, too.
Thank Teachers, Coaches, Refs…AND Members of the MILITARY
This “thank you” is a little different from the basic “please and thank you.”
When they see a serviceman or woman in uniform, or a veteran (often wearing a jacket or baseball cap identifying them as such), teach your kids to say “thank you for your service.” Have them add a handshake with eye contact.
As they leave class, ask them to say thank you to the teacher on their way out. This was not a common practice when our kids were in school, but the teachers lavished such gratitude on a student who did it, that it caught on among the classmates and became a very common practice and a source of pride for both teachers and students.
Likewise, the same rule applies for sports: when practice ends or the game is over, they should make a conscious effort to say thank you to the coach (many of whom volunteer and give up family time to work with the team).
After a game, win or lose, thank the ref and shake hands with him or her…Impressive stuff.
If You’re Assigned the “Crap” Job, Do it Well
This is especially important for kids, who—let’s be honest—think everything is a crap job. (And I apologize for using the word “crap”.)
Being a young person who knows how to follow instructions, dig in and get ‘er done—like scraping (non-lead) paint off a house or painting a fence on a hot summer day—shows leadership and maturity.
Bonus life points go to the kids who recognize big and small opportunities to offer help and readily volunteer it….like on school Service Days.
Adults notice when youth go the extra mile–like stopping to help pick up dropped items or help with heavy loads–and often give leadership opportunities to students who are known to be helpful, reliable and responsible.
They may have messy rooms at home, but to the outside world they have a great reputation.
Be Able to Say “I’M SORRY”
Despite what you see in your car, the correct response to being “beeped at” is NOT flipping the bird. Horns are often used to alert another driver to an error they have made (or are about to make) that could cause an accident.
Waving—instead of flipping—means, “sorry, thanks for letting me know.”
Is that really so hard?
In the car, in the classroom, in the office, or in a relationship…being able to admit you’re wrong and take responsibility shows humility and demonstrates character.
It also beats discovering that, on her way to school, your daughter just displayed her middle finger to the president of the PTA.
“Hello, Mrs. Smith”
Adults appreciate being acknowledged by name.
Your children will make a lasting impression if they take the time to say hello (by name) to adults they casually encounter or see unexpectedly at school or elsewhere. Bonus points for them if they shake hands and can maintain a brief conversation.
You know that feeling when someone approaches you and your forgot their name?
Teach your kids to spare someone that awkwardness by being comfortable introducing themselves:
“Mrs. Dirr? Hi, it’s James Smith.”
The adults they encounter will appreciate it…and will remember them.
Kids can also do this on the telephone…ever call someone and hear this:
“Hello, this is the Smith residence, Jimmy speaking”
or answer the phone to:
“Hello, Mrs. Dirr, this is Jimmy calling. May I please speak to Kyle.”
I gotta say, it makes me love that Jimmy kid.
(Note: while I loved that last one in our house, several nice folks have raised the point that it may not be wise with all the phone scammers out there, or necessary because of caller ID….a valid consideration left to personal preference.)
Be On Time
As a reformed always-late person…I am well qualified to say this:
Being late is selfish. No one cares about your excuses, how many lights you missed, that the dog wouldn’t come when you called, that you spilled your coffee on your shirt…etc.
Being late is a giant sticker on your forehead that says your time is much more important than everyone else’s; that you didn’t care enough to plan; and that it was easier to make everyone wait for you than to risk showing up early and, Heaven forbid, wait for them. (Yep, it says all that on one sticker!)
Being late also causes you to rush, stresses you out, and risks the safety of everyone when you drive.
If you think about it, these are just small things that might start out feeling hugely uncomfortable…but become really easy once practiced with sincerety on a regular basis.
Conversely, it turns out they are also confidence builders that have a big and positive effect on how your kids are perceived and remembered by the people they meet.
Carried into adulthood, they are great tools for life. The more people who practice them, the nicer life is for everyone.
I hope you’ll feel free to add to this list in the comment section 🙂