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Encouraging manners in kids: Here's what to know

Although everyone can agree on the importance of good social skills, teaching children how to apply them can be tricky.

Although everyone can agree on the importance of good social skills, teaching children how to apply them can be tricky for most parents. In this fast-paced world, these skills sometimes get overlooked, and according to the National Association of Elementary School Principals, the lack of manners is a growing problem in classrooms and playgrounds. Basic social skills like taking turns, listening, and saying “please” and “thank you” help contribute to your child’s success, and you can help improve his abilities by finding ways to refine these skills at home.

Establish a politeness policy to teach your child how to treat others with respect. Work with him to come up with this policy, and include your behavioral expectations of other family members as well. Explain to your child that no one is better than any other person and that respecting the rights of others should apply to everyone he interacts with, including family, neighbors, friends, store clerks, and strangers. Have each member of the family, including your child, sign the policy, as this will give them a sense of ownership. Describing good and bad behavior in detail and explaining why the behavior is respectful or not is a good way to add to his understanding of manners in the real world. When you’re out, point to acts of kindness and good etiquette and give him immediate positive feedback when you notice that he minds his manners. Try not to be impatient if your child has poor manners in a few areas. Be tolerant of his mistakes and take him aside to talk about the correct behavior when he forgets to mind his manners.

An important area to display good social skills and manners is at the dinner table. While preparing for dinner, whether on a typical day or a special occasion, teach your child how to set a table, use utensils, make eye contact, and have polite conversations. When you go out for dinner, notice with your child how the table is set and what other rules of etiquette seem to be followed in that particular restaurant or home. Remember that dinner time is a chance for you to engage with your family; by putting away all electronic devices when you share your meal, you can be more present and involved. It can also teach your child that these devices will not be allowed at the dinner table and that this is the time to focus on sharing with his family. By doing all of this, you will be helping to tune up his social graces.

Parent Toolkit resources were developed by NBC News Learn with the help of subject-matter experts, including Faye de Muyshondt, socialsklz:-) for SUCCESS; Jennifer Miller, Author, Confident Parents, Confident Kids; and Michele Borba, Author and Educational Psychologist.