Children learn much of what they know by watching and observing the adults around them. Therefore, adults should display kindness, manners, and helpful behaviors so children can observe and emulate them. 

However, there are also purposeful ways teachers can include manners and etiquette in daily classroom lessons. Intentionally including lessons and activities focused on manners and etiquette provides opportunities for children to practice and experiment with them during play.

Why is Teaching Manners Important?

Like other skills children need to learn, adults must teach manners. To some extent, children will pick up manners based on observations. If children see the adults around them using phrases like please and thank you, waiting their turn in line, and holding doors open for others, it stands to reason they will pick up on those behaviors.

However, children are naturally egotistical, impulsive, and emotional, so it is important to teach them when and how to use manners. Unfortunately, young children do not always possess the impulse control or social skills to understand rude or inappropriate behavior. 

Taking the time to explain why a behavior is polite or rude and teaching expectations provides children with an understanding. Simply telling children, “Say please,” may eventually stick that that’s what they’re supposed to say when they want something, but teaching them to understand why it’s polite will provide meaning to the action. 

How Do You Teach Children Manners and Etiquette?

The best way to teach children manners is through examples, play, and stories. Snack and meal times are the perfect time to work on table manners, saying please and thank you, and learning conversational skills.

As you teach children manners, especially table manners, remember that children are messy, accident-prone, and impulsive. Children shouldn’t be scolded for eating with their hands, forgetting to say thank you, or knocking a cup over. Instead, remind them to use their utensils, continue to display appropriate manners, and teach them how to clean up spills and messes.

Books, story time, and role play are other excellent ways to teach children manners. They also allow kids opportunities to practice new skills in a safe and fun environment. For example, teachers can ask children to act out different social situations during circle time or use puppets to tell a social story. An interactive book reading that focuses on manners and kindness is a great way to engage children in using critical thinking skills. Using open-ended questions about characters’ behaviors and different choices that the characters could have made creates new neural pathways in children’s brains.

Patience is Key

Teaching a child any skill requires patience, but it is especially true when teaching manners and etiquette. And it is important to remember that children, like us, have bad days, grumpy moods, and short tempers. 

When a child experiences big emotions and struggles to remember to use their manners, it is a learning opportunity to discuss how our actions can make someone else feel.

Top Manners and Etiquette Skills to Teach Young Children

Depending on the children you’re working with, some of these skills may not be applicable yet. But remember, kids are always watching what we do, so set the example now!

  • Teach them to use phrases like, Please, Thank you, May I? Can I? No, thank you.
  • Demonstrate appropriate conversational skills and to wait their turn to speak. 
  • Teach cell phone etiquette. They’re never too young to learn the appropriate time and place to use a cell phone. So put your phone away when talking to them, and give them your full attention.  
  • Teach good sportsmanship. Even if it is a game of Candyland, losing can be tough, and not everyone is a gracious winner. 
  • Teach the proper way to greet people. For example, eye contact, handshaking, etc., vary based on culture, so take into account your culture and the culture you live amongst and teach your child the proper way to greet people. 
  • Show them how to use kind words and tone of voice when speaking to others.
  • Teach them how to be good guests. Clean up when they’re done, say thank you when leaving a play date, and follow and respect the rules of the place or home they visit.