Aaah, the good old days, when gentlemen opened doors for ladies and children were seen but not heard. Those times are probably gone forever — and not much-missed by most — but good manners are timeless, says “Today” contributor Dr. Gail Saltz, and are important in teaching kids to become successful adults. Saltz, a psychiatrist at New York City Presbyterian Hospital, was invited on the show to discuss the importance of everyday etiquette for children.
Have you noticed that children aren't much on manners these days? We may be witnessing a lack of manners because parents are consumed with the very complicated business of making ends meet, taking children to their many activities, working with their kids to do well in school, and also working on their marriage. With so much activity and responsibility, parents may not have time to teach their kids etiquette.
However, to be a successful adult you need to have incorporated certain appropriate manners of behavior, as well as a sensitivity to those around you. Proper etiquette (and I am not talking about a strict following of Emily Post) provides a tool for operating in social and work situations. It can make the difference between a good impression and a bad one. Plus, manners should be taught when children are young, because it's harder to acquire these behaviors later in life.
The best way to instill good manners is to show your children how it's done. You can give them positive reinforcement when they use the manners you have asked them to. Actions speak louder than words, so make sure you are showing them how to act. At first these will seem like empty behaviors to them, but as they incorporate the manners into their lives, they will find that people respond to them with respect and appreciation. This will enhance their sense of self and further encourage them to use their social skills to better relationships of all kinds. These are the kids who grow up to be socially savvy and successful.
So exactly what are "manners" and why are they important?
Gathering with others for the purpose of sharing food is one of the cornerstones of social relationships. Whether it is simply the family dinner, a holiday gathering or, later in life, a work lunch or a dinner date, table manners say a lot about how you come across to others.
If you do not teach your kids table manners at home, then you can't very well expect them to be mannerly when company comes or at a restaurant or a friend's house.
This is not about being Miss Manners; this is really about being able to care about how others feel when you are with them. Also, it shows to others that you respect how they feel and that you respect yourself, too. Furthermore, if you don't teach your children manners, you are leaving them open to embarrassment later in life when others will be turned off by their poor manners. It could leave them feeling rejected by others.
If you explain the importance of manners from this point of view, and that you want them to show you respect at the table as well (by not eating with fingers, chewing with their mouth open, etc.) you are much more likely to help them acquire the manners. When kids think the behavior you want is "arbitrary" it may be harder to enforce.
The way you come across on the phone affects both your personal and work relationships. When your child calls someone, teach them to introduce themselves before they ask to speak to their friend. "Hello, this is Suzy Jones, may I please speak to Sally? Thank you." The parents will hear that as both friendly and courteous.
Dressing appropriately and respectfully for the place you are going is a valuable skill. When you show up sloppy, dirty or too casual you are saying, "I don't care about this event or these people." This has nothing to do with expensive clothes, but rather looking neat and appropriate.
Speaking to others
The art of talking to other people is important. Looking them in the eye when you greet them and asking them a question about themselves shows you are interested in them and facilitates a positive interaction. Explain this to your child, and role play this with them. Remembering to say "please" and "thank you" also demonstrates a respect and appreciation of the other person.
The Golden RulePart of manners and etiquette is treating others the way you would want to be treated. For example, when someone at school feels left out, teach your child to go over and ask that child to join them. By talking with them about the importance of standing in the other person's shoes, called empathy, you can help them to be a wonderful friend, life partner and colleague.
Dr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist with New York Presbyterian Hospital and a regular contributor to “Today.” Her new book, “Becoming Real: Overcoming the Stories We Tell Ourselves That Hold Us Back,” was recently published by Riverhead Books. For more information, you can visit her Web site, .