Last edition, we presented basic good manners that every adult ought to have. The rationale behind that was for you to build up yourself before you start knocking manners into your child. If you correct a child for something that you also are guilty of, you will have a hard time making the lessons stick but manners and etiquette for children is ranked as the most important quality to nurture in the family home as they are essential for every child's self-confidence and success in life.
Most of the 'good manners and etiquette for children' pointers below apply to both parents and children - remember you have to 'practice what you preach'.
- Learn to Greet: In the typical Africans setting, people take greeting seriously. If one woman complains that a particular child is spoilt, the first thing example they give is “the brat does not greet.” Teach your child to say ‘good morning’ (or whatever time of the day it is), to you, their teachers, other adults around them and even their friends in school.
- Watch Your Words: Children are probably too young to fully understand the impact of spoken words but at the very least, they must learn to say “please” when making a request, “thank you” when receiving something and “I’m sorry” when they have wronged other people. At 8 years, a child must have learnt that it is unacceptable to scream or use foul language. Teach them to refrain from commenting on another person’s appearance unless it is to pay them a compliment, which is always nice. Also caution them on giving out excess information about the family. For example, if they answer your phone, the caller does not have to know that ‘Daddy is in the bathroom.’ Just let the caller know that Dad is not around at the moment.
- Ask for Permission: If you want something that isn’t yours, ask the owner or the person in charge; don’t just grab it and walk off. Knock on closed doors and wait for a response before you enter. It shows you respect their privacy. Speaking of privacy, discourage your child from snooping around people’s phones and diaries. Reading people’s text messages or e-mails without their permission is extremely rude. Let him practise his reading skills elsewhere.
- Table Manners: Before you tell him not to chew noisily, be sure that he isn’t chewing just like Dad. That said, at age 8, a child must have learnt not to chew with her mouth open. Tell them: don’t blow your nose at table; don’t be greedy when eating with others; don’t slurp; and don’t dunk your bread in your tea.
- Don’t be a Bully: When we complain about bullying among children, remember that the bullies are not ghosts. They are somebody’s children, and they could be yours if you don’t warn them sternly off the destructive habit. It is wrong to pick on someone because you perceive him as weak. This would mean too that parents should not engage in bullying other people at home or at work.
- Clean Up After Yourself: Before age 8, a child should definitely learn to flush the toilet and wash his hands afterwards. Encourage them to always put their dirt in trash cans, put dirty clothes in the laundry basket and just tidy up their environment, starting from their rooms. Even if you have a house help, learn to tidy up after yourself.
- How to Interrupt a Conversation: Teach your child to say ‘excuse me’ when he wants to get the attention of a grown-up who is talking with somebody else in person or on the phone. It is rude to just intrude and expect everything to come to a standstill because of you. If it is a (real) emergency, she is at liberty to quickly get attention to solve the problem.
- Receiving Guests: whether you are receiving guests or visiting other people, there is a proper way to behave. Teach them to ask for your permission before they go promise to visit anyone so they won’t have to tell the person “My mummy said I can’t come to your house.” When they have friends over, let them learn to share their toys and just be nice to their guests. When they go to visit, remind them to have fun but clean up their mess, to be polite to their hosts and to practise the other 7 points listed above. His hosts are sure to notice what a wonderful kid he is.
There you have it! Note that this is not about turning kids into ‘Miss Goody Two Shoes’ or well-behaved robots; it is about equipping them with basic social graces that will help them in developing their identity. If they end up becoming perfect gentleman or a polished lady, no reasonable human being will complain.