How Do I Teach My Child Manners?

Manners are constantly changing from generation to generation and vary based on culture. Before we explore how to teach manners we need acknowledge that the manners that are important to some may be different from those we discuss. The universal ideas behind good manners remain: common sense, consideration of others, and custom.  The definition of MANNER is two part:

  1. a way in which a thing is done or happens
  2. a person’s outward bearing or way of behaving toward others.

How Do I Teach My Child Manners?

When you are focusing on teaching manners to your child, you are looking at their behavior and how they respond to others in a variety of situations. As with most skills, manners are developed at home, based on the behaviors being modeled. It is never too early to teach the basics of good manners. From as early as 6 months old you can start modeling manners such as  ‘PLEASE’, ‘THANK YOU‘, and ‘SHARE‘ during your daily routine. Using American Sign Language to teach the sign for these manners reinforces the words and will allow your child to communicate with the sign long before they can verbally communicate. You can start by prompting your child with questions like, “What do you say?” or “Can you say, ‘please?'”. Younger children may not always understand or put these manners into practice, but you may be pleasantly surprised.

As we begin teaching manners we need to remember that positive reinforcement and gentle prompting will help manners become a more automatic response. The development of manners generally takes place from one to five years of age, but you continually learn how to express manners throughout your lifetime. This is a gradual process that takes repetition, consistency, and proper role modeling. If you want your child to have good manners you need to set the example. In other words, the best way to teach your child manners is to use manners consistently in your day to day life. You can also provide opportunities to practice their manners in social settings. A great place to start are playdates with their peers.

What manners are appropriate for what age?

Ages 1-2:

Start simple with sitting still for small periods of time. This may require a small toy or doll. Start with 1 minute and work your way up to 5 minutes. This takes practice and time, so be patient.

Teach them “magic words,” such as:

  • Please
  • Thank you
  • Sorry
  • Excuse me

Teach them to share toys. Ask, “Will you please share your car with me?” When they share the car say, “Thank you.” After a short period of time give the car back and say, “It was nice of you to share with me, thank you.”

ASL Sign for Share

Ages 3 to 6:

Continue to work on using ‘magic words’ and sharing.

Teach the importance of taking turns. Taking turns is a skill needed at home, on the playground, and in school. Games are a great way to teach taking turns.

Teach appropriate physical touch. It is important to set clear boundaries for safety reasons and for what is socially acceptable, such as not hitting, kicking, and pushing others.

Teach good listening skills, which includes making eye contact when someone is talking to them or when they are talking to someone.

Age 7 and older.

By now your child should have a solid understanding of the manners that are important in your family, community, and culture. This is time to fine tune the boundaries. You may have to set new boundaries based on your child being given more independence, like playing at a friend’s. This is when you continue to teach them to obey rules that may be set by others outside the home such as: school, sports, and friend’s homes.

It is also important to focus on showing respect for self and others by the way they act. This is also modeled by how you treat others. Remember, your children learn from you first.

What manners matter most?

Remembering what manners matter most to you, your family, your community, and your culture will determine what manners you should focus on. In the article, 20 Manners to Teach Children with Special Needs, by Brandi Shinn states, “As an autism and behavioral specialist, I realize that not all children are blessed with role models to follow. I also see times where developmental deficiencies, academic challenges, and social weaknesses can hinder the learning of said skills. While others lack the appropriate role models to follow; some children may lack the knowledge or wherewithal of how to follow such expectations.” 

While her article focuses on Special Needs, her advice is on-point for all children – and adults for that matter. Here is Brandi’s list of 20 Manners:

Manner 1
Say “please” when requesting an item or for someone to do you a favor.

Manner 2
When someone does something nice for you, say, “Thank You”.

Manner 3 
Do not interrupt a grown-up. If there is an emergency raise your hand and wait to be called on or say, “fire”, “help”, “I’m Sick” etc.

Manner 4
If you need to get somebody’s attention to get by them or pass them, say kindly, “Excuse me.”  If they don’t hear you, politely say it again louder. Do not touch the person or move them out of the way.

Manner 5
If you’re not sure you would be allowed to do something, or what the rules are, always ask permission first. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

Manner 6
If you bump into somebody accidentally, immediately say “Excuse me”, even if you perceive it to be their fault.

Manner 7
Do not comment about others belongings, looks, or personality. If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything.

Manner 8
When someone asks you how you are, tell them in a short statement, such as, “Good!”, “Great, I made an A on my test!”, or “Not good, I’ve been sick for several days.” Your response should not be longer than 3 sentences. You then ask how they are, and listen to their response. You can comment if you would like.

Manner 9
If someone offers you a drink, snack, or something you don’t like or don’t want, politely say, “No thank you”.

Manner 10
If a door is closed, knock firmly (do not bang) on the closed door 3 times. Count to 20 while waiting for a response. Knock once more, 3 times, and wait 20 seconds. If there is no answer, come back later and try again.

Manner 11 
When you call someone on the phone introduce yourself first and then ask to speak to the friend or person you are calling.

Manner 12
Be appreciative and say “thank you” for any gift you receive – even if you don’t like it! Most gifts are given out of love and should be received graciously. Handwritten notes, drawn pictures, or artwork is very welcomed by most as a thank you.

Manner 13
Don’t call others (family, friends, classmates, enemies, pets, or animals) mean names. We all have a given name; use it unless requested otherwise.

Manner 14
Do not make fun of anyone for any reason. This is called bullying. If you are being bullied or know someone who is, talk to a trusted adult. A parent, teacher, coach, pastor, etc.

Manner 15
If you attend a play, a movie, pep rally, concert, or an assembly and it is boring, just sit through it quietly. The performers and presenters are doing their best and you don’t want to hurt their feelings.

Manner 16
When you cough or sneeze, cover your mouth with a tissue, or the bend of your arm. You don’t want to spread germs. Quickly dispose of your tissue into the trash and wash your hands.

Manner 17
Don’t pick your nose in public, or use your sleeve or other item to wipe your nose. Find a tissue, then dispose into the trash and wash your hands.

Manner 18
If you come across a parent, a teacher, or a neighbor carrying a large load, ask if you can help. If they say “yes,” do so — but be careful; they are trusting you with their items.

Manner 19
When an adult you know personally asks you for help, do it without grumbling and with a smile. If a stranger asks you to do something, ask your parents first before helping.

Manner 20
Do not ask personal questions or make personal comments such as, “Why are you so fat?”, “How much do you weigh?”, “I just farted,” or “I don’t like your dress.” These are comments that are personal in nature and are okay to think, but not to say out loud to others.

Learn the signs for some key manners with the song Magic Words from Rachel & Me Episode 2 – Manners and Signing Time Volume 2: Playtime Signs!

Additional signs for manners can be found on Baby Signing Time Volume 2: Here I Go and Baby Signing Time Volume 4: Let’s Be Friends all included in a monthly subscription for only $9.99 per month. Start your Free 14-day trail today!


Minding Your P’s and Q’s: An Age-by-Age Guide to Teaching Manners to Children Gerber Life Insurance Company

Five ways to teach your toddler manners Baby Centre UK

20 Manners to Teach Children with Special Needs by Brandi Shinn

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