Basic manners: why have they changed so drastically? Talk amongst yourselves.

Tipnut passed along this link yesterday; basic etiquette lassons from the 1950’s:

12 Rules of Etiquette For Children: Timeless Wisdom Collection

I was thoroughly shocked. Both by how old-fashioned some of the suggestions seemed (asking children to rise when an elder enters the room), and by how little most of today’s little ones are taught the finer points of etiquette.

I’ve often thought about how, as a child, I was taught to call every adult by the title "Mr." or "Mrs." I was, in fact uncomfortable when an adult suggested I use his or her first name. Today, I’m the adult, and I feel uncomfortable when a child calls me "Mrs. Dornfest." Then again, it has only happened once.

How do manners change so drastically in a single generation? Should we teach our children more formal manners? Do you think parenting would be easier if basic etiquette were a standard part of the agenda?

Thank you, Tipnut, for the link. I can’t wait to hear what folks have to say about this.


  1. Dan says

    A generation is between 15 and 20 years, so advice from the 1950s is somewhere between two and three generations ago, not one.

    We all teach our children the finer points of etiquette, its just that the rules we teach have changed in the last 60 years ago. Your children will be pretty maladjusted in the 2010s and 20s if you train them to behave like upper class children of the 1950s. The world has changed and become less formal since the 50s. Watch the TV series MadMen for a vivid reminder of this. I sure wouldn’t trade the less formal etiquette we have now for a world where pregnant mothers smoke and drink and are routinely treated as less than human by men.

    Politeness and concern for others are excellent traits to instill in our children, but they aren’t the same thing as formality.


  2. says

    When I first moved to the US South, I was shocked to find that manners DO still exist. Even many of my friends children answer me “Yes Ma’am/No thank you Ma’am”. Mine are the social deviants “um,sure/nah”.

    I don’t think standing for adults is a behavior that we should bother trying to get back. Interrupting, saying “excuse me” and being more overall polite to others– those I think we, as parents, have allowed to lapse. I think the ‘kids as our friends’ attitude these days is a huge part of it. Instead of respecting parents, parents are friends to discuss/argue rules. Parents who say their greatest hope for their children is that they be “happy” are missing the point. If we make them responsible and inquisitive, they will make themselves happy.

  3. Marcy says

    The standing thing seems a bit much, but my daughter will be going to a Day School where, upon reading the student handbook, I see that it is required. When we visited their open houses, the children were all friendly and polite. Not an automaton in sight.

    Ma’am and Sir are required by me and my husband. I have only been mocked in one region of the country for saying Ma’am and Sir. I don’t think that having impeccable manners will ever go out of style in the professional world.

    It’s been quite easy to teach our almost three year old. When we call her name and she says, “What?” (with the biting tone of a teenager,) we simply say, “Yes, Ma’am/Sir” and she repeats it. It worked with “Please” and “Thank You.”

    I’d rather have my child be “overly polite” than the alternative.

  4. Amy Michelle T. says

    Actually I was surprise to find that the list was not as shocking as I thought it would be.

    1, 4, 8, and 9 are all expected practices in our household.

    2, 7, 12 are practiced for the most part, but not required.

    I’m thankful 3 has gone out of style because I want my children to know that they are worthy of starting conversations with adults as long as it’s a respectful conversation.

    To me, 5 is kind of a situational thing. I mean, I would probably stand when a visitor stands, but only if the person where leaving or switching rooms. If they were getting up to go to the restroom or something I am not going to stand (mostly because I don’t want them thinking I’m going to try to go with them!).

    6 actually bothers me because I had parents who seemed to use me as their slave at times. I didn’t bring my children in this world to dote on me. Though, I do expect my children to wait on themselves when they are of the age that they can do the task at hand.

    10 ‘kind of’ works today if you alter the wording a bit. Most of us expect a child to use an indoor voice when indoors. I don’t know if it denotes refinement, but it is certainly respectful. And expected of them.

    And my least favorite.. 11. As the oldest of five I hated giving way to my younger siblings simply because it was easier on them as well as my parents. But as I hope to have multiple children I can see why this rule would’ve been invoked. It’s really another situational rule that parents today should invoke when necessary, but not all the time.

  5. tulip says

    I have to say I wasn’t super surprised by the list. What I find interesting is that my child is polite enough that people remark on it. As Jill noted, it seems that in the South people are more conditioned to the whole kids being polite, though frankly I don’t notice a lot of polite kids around!
    We started before my daughter could really talk with the please/thank you and you should have heard people! “She can’t understand that” blah blah. I kind of feel like people try to start too late with kids now. How is a 4 year old all of a sudden supposed to be polite when you have never asked them to be before?
    I agree with Amy on the #3. I feel like kids should be treated with respect and politeness from us as well! Everyone deserves a voice in the conversation and as long as they don’t interrupt I feel fine with them as conversationalists.
    I think common sense and thoughtfulness of others goes a long way to polite behavior. It’s a good check on MY behavior when I want to make sure I’m practicing what I preach!

  6. mom, again says

    Yes, certainly, this has been a more than 1 generational change. Through the years since my first round of parenting began (1984) I’ve read various theories on why. One was that working mothers don’t spend all day long with their kids, so don’t spend large amounts of time correcting their kids behavior. Having been a working mom, I know there is some validity to that when I compare my mother’s interactions with us vs. my more limited interactions with my daughters. Mom did have more time to catch us doing well, or not, and praise or correct. She had an entire 3rd meal with us at which she could instill good table manners, for example.

    As an American who grew up, and raised up two children, in the south, I can also tell you that although we may uphold traditional good manners more than elsewhere in the U.S., things have slipped there as well. My first realization of this was at a school potluck. I can recall the dessert table being off limits until everyone had gone through the supper line, and even then, a few parents or teacher stood by to enforce the limited quantity of sweets per child. I was shocked when, at our first such meeting at my daughters’ school, a number of children rushed the dessert table first, took dinner plates full, and then returned for more. And nobody said anything. Their parents went through the supper line, ate their dinner and seemed to be oblivious to their children’s actions. My daughters never got any sweets because I made them go through the line with me, and nothing was left, ever, when they had finished their supper.

  7. Kai says

    The list isn’t surprising, but I feel there is a distinct difference between etiquette and manners. My daughter is very well-mannered for a two-year-old — she knows to say please and thank you, asks to be excused from the table (thank you Signing Time!), and knows to be respectful of other people when we’re eating in a restaurant or in another public place. Does she call my friends by their last name? No. Not unless they request it. While later in life we may decide she needs a bit more etiquette, I think that instilling respect for other human beings and basic courtesy is far more important… and all too often there are those who are extremely well-versed in etiquette but have little respect or courtesy for others.

  8. Lisa says

    I have to agree with tulip. My child is 2 and please and Yes/no Ma’am. We are working on Yes/no sir (everyone is a Ma’am at this point) and thank you. I have had many comment that he is too young for such behavior, but I think it’s always best to start teaching the behavior you expect from the beginning instead of waking up one morning and suddenly having higher expectations. That, in my opinion, is really confusing for a child.

  9. says

    I’m only 23 – hardly from a drastically different generation than the one that I am raising now, in terms of manners/technology – but I believe that children need to be taught manners and formality.

    The fact is, if my daughter learns to say No, Thank You and Yes, Ma’am and No, Sir and Excuse Me and that she should default to Mrs/Mr So & So, she can always drop the formality if the situation is more casual. But if you only teach your child casual or no manners… well, you’re effed if you need to be somewhere and you’d really like your kid to make a good impression.

    Better to learn it all, learn it well, and know when it is appropriate. My mother taught me to say yes, ma’am and also how to swear like a sailor. The most important thing she taught me, however, was WHEN to do both, and why it was important to pay attention to the situation.

  10. shirky says

    The specific ways we show respect and care can change totally but the underlying reasons will remain the same. Just think of things like shaking hands vs. bowing–both are ‘polite greetings’ in their contexts but they look different. Kindness and empathy are universal but calling people “ma’am” is not common in my region and not necessary around here to qualify as “polite”. Please & Thank you are big for me–so much that my child’s first words and sign were Thank You–but in my mother in law’s culture, they are considered too formal for home use. So with any luck we can focus on what’s underneath and then teach him to be flexible with the symbols of respect, according to context.

  11. Jen says

    You know, the only adults our daughter is allowed to call by their first names are our absolute closest friends, and that’s mostly b/c she usually forgets the “auntie” and “uncle.” Adults are “Ms, Mr. or Mrs”, or whatever family title is appropriate. She uses Please and Thank you without prompting, and has recently started reminding ME to say “excuse me” when I burp. She knows all stranger women are “Mam” and all stranger men are “Sir.” She’s 2 1/2 years old.

    Like other rules and limits, teaching basic manners, especially ones related to greeting and speaking with people, are things children thrive on for learning self-discipline.

  12. says

    I’m another Southerner, and I was raised with rules very similar to those listed.

    Despite living north of the Mason-Dixon, I’m trying to raise my children with similar codes. Please, thank you, excuse me, ma’am, sir, calling adults Mr. & Mrs. unless they permit otherwise … all these things are expected, as is treating guests like guests, saying nothing if there is nothing nice to say, and being quiet in adult conversation. I have to say that sometimes I definitely feel the culture around me working against the effort, but I’m stubborn.

    In my view, good manners are about three things:
    1. learning self control.
    2. establishing rules of conduct so everyone is treated fairly and appropriately
    3. Paying honor and respect to the people you’re around, even sales clerks and service people.

  13. says

    We have four rules:

    1. Please.
    2. Thank you.
    3. Answer questions when adults ask them.
    4. Look adults in the eye when answering.

    Also, we rehearse on the way to see friends. “We’re going to see Jane and Jon. They’re going to ask you about camp. You’re going to answer politely.”

    Sometimes it works.

  14. says

    I don’t think we are as formal as this list, but there is an absolute expectation of general good manners in our house.

    What it is interesting to me is the fact that people are surprised when our son says “Please” and “Thank You” unbidden by us. They often say things like “I wish my kids would do that” or “My kids would never do that.”

    I disagree.

    They would if you expected it of them.

    Kids rise to expectations and though we have a ways to go before we would have perfectly executed good manners in our home. Good manners are an expectation and we’ll definitely get there.

  15. mama2etc says

    My house rules:

    Please, Thank You and Excuse Me

    Greet everyone when you arrive and say goodbye when you leave.

    Say goodnight and good morning the same way.

    Address all adults as Mrs/Ms/Mr unless they tell you otherwise.

    Remove your hat indoors (it’s amazing to me how little this is practiced).

    After practice, thank every one of your coaches for their time.

    Hold the door for anyone with a small child, the elderly or anyone else who looks like they could use a little help.

    Always offer help if you can. I there is a way you can make someone’s life easier, do it.

    Say excuse me when you must walk through someone’s line of sight (in the movie rental store, for example).

    There are more, but these are all I can think of right now. My children often get stuck holding the door as a stream of people walks through, but just as often then have made someone’s day as they offer to dispose of their tray at McDonald’s or take their cart to the corral.

    As tulip noted, it more surprising to me that people notice that my children are polite enough to remark on it. They should be the norm, not the exception.

  16. Christi says

    I think part of the issue has to do with if the rules are enforced or reinforced. I know that both my grandparents and parents wouldn’t hesitate to resort to spanking or other sorts of (now largely considered not-a-great-idea) punishments to enforce these behaviors. But for those of us who rely on modeling the behaviors we want kids to emulate, correcting and teaching repeatedly, resorting to time outs when necessary…well, I don’t know about everyone, but I’m tired, and I don’t think my kids have mastered these skills and that makes me sad. But at the same time, they are free to think and speak their own ideas without fear of physical reprisal, which is (probably? usually?) a good thing. :-)

  17. says

    With a 17 month old…we aren’t concentrating so much on making rules or correcting behavior…but we are focused on modeling good behavior. So while my husband and I might not have had the best table manners before the baby, we are making an effort in front of her…and it seems to be paying off, she knows “tank ew” and “eazzz”(thank you and please). She doesn’t always use them properly…but at least it’s getting in there.

    We call adults/daycare/family Mr. or Ms. First Name. It’s still respectful, not as formal, and first names are generally easier to say and remember than last names.

  18. says

    We are raising our 3 year old with all the usual please/thankyou/sir/ma’am stuff, and he does pretty well with that. We’re working on ‘Excuse Me’ when he wants to get someone’s attention right now, and that’s going well.

    Maybe it’s a southern thing as well, but we teach him to say ‘Miss Holly’, ‘Mr. Clay’, etc for adults like friends/neighbors, rather than addressing by their last name. Saying Mr. Hooper or Mrs. Brady just seems weird :)

  19. Ki says

    I’m not so sure about the details manners (call and adult by their title, stand when a lady comes to the table, or when an adult enters the room), but I do think it’s vital to teach them courtesy (please, thank you, excuse me) and to teach them to be kind.

  20. John M. says

    calling adults by Mr. and Mrs. is an east coast/west coast thing. When I grew up in California all the adults wanted to be called by their first names. When I moved to Virginia we addressed all adults as Mr. or Mrs. so and so.

  21. says

    Thanks for posting this. We are in the process of launching four children to adulthood. Our kids are 17, 14, 11, and 5. Over the years, we’ve struggled with manners and posture, interrupting conversations, etc. We’ve found great help through the work of June Moore. I first heard of her at I love the way she looks at manners–it’s thinking about the other person first. Her material has also helped ME be a better salesman and marketing professional. I do a better job remembering names (something I’m terrible at) and “working a room” (something I’ve always dreaded). I can now greet people with confidence.

    Our oldest has started interviewing for college scholarships. I’m seeing the benefits of what we learned as a family first hand.

    I commend her work to you. Her website is

    (I am not affiliated with B&H or getting paid to do this… An honest endorsement)

  22. says

    Those work for me! My two little sons are expected to behave pretty darn close to those expectations. It’s always a work in progress, but…

  23. RLR says

    We, too, are in the South – and even here, folks often comment on my kids’ manners. My son is 4.5, my daughter is 2. We start with please and thank you early on, work on excuse me when they start to join (interrupt) conversations. We thank everyone from the people at the post office when we buy stamps to each other when we are at home. We use titles with a first name for close friends, and use titles and last names for other adults (church, preschool, etc).
    I never imagined this would be the exception, until I noticed that people still commented on my 4 year old using polite words. At 2 years old, folks probably think it’s cute, but at 4, I think it should be expected.

  24. STL Mom says

    I’ve been working on “please” and “thank you” since my kids learned to talk. Now they are 5 and 8, and we’re still working on it — I have to remind them at least 80% of the time. I feel like a broken record saying, “What do you say when you want something?” and “Use your silverware, not your fingers!” and “No feet on the table!” all day long, every day. I would love to think that my kids have good manners, but I’m fearful that when I’m not around they are little wild things.

  25. GoodSandwich says

    Except for the not-starting-conversations rule (which has its place at times), it seems like a pretty nice list — being attentive to guests and family members, doing for yourself and offering to help others. The ability to choose to be polite (not subservient) actually serves kids well I think — it makes adults notice them with positive regard. I think this opens doors for children.

  26. says

    I love technology, but I can acknowledge that our wholehearted acceptance of every new gadget had degraded our etiquette and multiplied our impatience. Cell phones especially, completely out of control. And yes, I use one every single day.

  27. Parent Hacks Editor says

    Thank you (as always) for the enlightening conversation. Regarding my flub about “one generation,” I was very much off on that. I was just thinking about how my mother grew up in the 50s and probably learned manners from that list.

  28. says

    I am from New York and Chicago. I almost passed out when we moved to NE Florida, what with all the yes ma’am’s and yes sir’s. They drove me a bit nuts. But then, I decided stop and watch. It was and is, really nice. My kids are so polite. When teenagers are around me they say ma’am. And not with disgust! They actually mean it! I think of some kids I know from urban areas and I think it’s harder to keep that level of “manners.” But, in reality, what we are really talking about here is respect. When you live in a small town, as we now do, everyone rubs elbows with each other. It’s easier to have manners because the person you are rude to is probably teaching your child or working at your bank, or going to sell you your next car. I guess if we could all remember to treat others as if we were rubbing elbows with them, we might all have more manners. It doesn’t matter if it’s a “yes ma’am, or holding a door open, or not cutting in line. If we can model that behavior for our kids and reinforce it when we see it in them, well, standing up when adults walk in the room or not, our kids and our world will be better for it.

  29. Parent Hacks Editor says

    Another interesting take on manners: one of my children has (and has always had) difficulty picking up social cues. What often appears rude and insensitive to others is really his utter lack of understanding, despite our teaching. He’s getting better as he gets older, but it’s a constant struggle. I often see, from the other side, just how important manners and the “unspoken rules” are, because I see the response he gets when he unintentionally breaks them.

  30. says

    [Disclaimer : Manners are regional, as we’re seeing, so maybe what I’m talking about is a New England / Massachusetts thing]

    I think kids don’t have good manners these days because most adults have forgotten them as well. Try something – the next time you’re in line at the coffee shop or McDonald’s or whatever, listen to how the people around you ask for their food. Do they say “Can I get a medium regular, please?” or do they say “Give me a glazed donut”? Even better, what do *you* catch yourself saying? That fascinates me every time, how people lapse into rudeness so quickly. If your coworker came up to you and said “Give me 10 copies of this” you’d tell him to blow it out his left nostril. But yet we do it all the time.

    I’d be willing to bet that most grownups, myself included, might well be expecting our children to reach a higher standard than we do ourselves.

  31. says

    Some of the list seem a bit formal for today’s times; I had a simple rule and my kids were manners champs: “Don’t make other people feel bad.” Greet the elevator man or cab driver and call those kinds of people “sir” or “ma’am” because they can’t fight back when they are paid in service jobs. Go to the door with your friends when they leave, help pick up when you play at their house. Please, thank you, a seat for an older person on the bus etc etc — all of these are basic kindness issues and if you inform your manners with that value you’ll seldom make a bad choice and always enchant the adults.
    In fact, and I’ve told this story before online, this really happened:
    At an ice cream stand outside Fenway Park on a family trip when the kids were around 8 and 4, my older son ordered “a small chocolate please.” He received a GIGANTIC cone. When he (again politely) told the young Irish woman working in Boston for the summer that he’d only ordered a small, she said (and I am NOT making this up) “You’re the first kid who’s said ‘please’ to me all summer and I’ll give you the biggest cone I can if I want to!” That kind of feedback keeps a kid in the polite column!

  32. Markus says

    Our two year old girl says Bitte and Danke (you may guess where I’m writing from) without our insisting on it. I believe she picked it up from us. When we ask something of her we do not give commands but also use please and thank you. I think many parents forget basic manners when addressing their children. Respect works both ways.

  33. says

    I don’t care for formality, but I think one of the reasons “kids today” seem more inconsiderate than generations past is that we’ve failed to establish rules of politeness for new technology like cell phones. People whip out cell phones and talk at full volume in movie theaters, on dates, in restaurants. Of course young people do this more than older ones – younger generations tend to embrace new technology more fervently.

    Cell phones, iPods, Blackberries, etc. all have the effect of isolating you from your surroundings, which makes you do inconsiderate things. All you need to do is be aware of this and compensate (or turn the device off in certain situations). But until there’s some general agreement about what’s polite and what’s not, it won’t change.

  34. says

    As someone who has spent years working with thousands of college students, I have to say that the ones who initiated an introductory handshake upon our first meeting are forever lodged in my memory.

    Good manners can unlock a lot of hearts and doors in life. They’re a lasting gift.

  35. Glenn says

    Reading the comments here is almost as interesting as the thoughts provoked in the article. I observe that not one person commented to say, “I think this whole politeness thing is over-rated”. The cross-section of people who are motivated to read this article isn’t, sadly, an even cross-section of America ( I can’t speak for other countries). As a foster parent, I see the seedier side of society all too often, and catch myself holding a jaded view of our society. It is refreshing just to read through a comment set that offers countering points of view without the ego running rampant, and abuses hurled indiscriminately back and forth. The closest to disagreement came from the very first comment, from Dan, who still managed to express his dissent in a rational, civil manner. As to his content, I would suggest two point be considered. First, if by “we all” he means those who frequent this site, he may be right, but if he means all parents, I would disagree, going so far as to say that the parent who teaches their child politeness for politeness’ sake is a minority. Even the alcoholic abusers tell their children to mind (usually) but mostly to establish unhealthy control over them, not to prepare the child for civil, healthy adult relationships. Second, I think each generation re-evaluates the rules of civil behaviour, but the 60’s and 70’s saw more of a wholesale tossing of rules, particularly in the Western US, which left the next generation adrift, not even knowing what to evaluate, let alone what values to hold. There were many necessary points to the hippie and other movements in that erea, but in the end, anarchy gained an unhealthy majority position, and threw our society’s development into a tailspin.

  36. says

    I don’t know exactly when good manners became so out of style but I will wager that it happened around the time when we began worrying about our children’s safety in school and in public places. If we want our children to be mindful of others then they need a good dose of respect. I believe that this has to start at home. Our children’s teachers have a huge job at hand and shouldn’t be resposible for teaching our children the simple things they should be learning at home (ie, manners, respect for their elders and peers).

    My daughter just turned four and she has been taught the importance of using proper manners (as much as a four year old can remember). She knows to say please, thank you, yes mam/sir, no mam/sir, and excuse me. We very seldom have to prompt d.d. and when we do we simply ask, “what do you say?”. We don’t tell her what to say, just remind her that she forgot something.

    My last jobs were working with children who were considered “at risk” (at risk for dropping out of school, abuse, joining gangs, etc.). The majority of these challenging children had poor manners. One of the programs that I did, and they enjoyed, was hosting a dinner. Everyone who attended was required to use proper manners. Let me tell you, those few “dinners” were enjoyed emmensely! And, better yet, the kids carried their new-found manners over for a while longer. They were witnessed, by parents and teachers, being kind and courteous of others. So, manners DO matter.

    We’ve all heard the saying, “You get alot more with honey than you do with vinegar”. Good manners are the honey and poor ones are the vinegar. Our kids will go much futher in life with good manners than without them. It’s our job, as our children’s parents, to prepare them for the best future possible. One of the steps to acheiving this is to teach them good manners. If good manners are considered “retro” or “passe” then it’s time we bring them back. After all, if the 80’s fashions can make a comeback (albeit temporarily) then I think manners stand a better chance.

  37. Louise says

    One rule that really needs to make a comeback is manners when answering the land-line phone. I hate calling a house and having a kid answer simply “Hello.” There is no way to know who that kid is–when they’re little you can’t tell the girls from the boys, etc., and it puts me, the caller, in the position of having to guess and potentially embarrass myself. When I was a kid, we had to answer, “[our last name] residence, [our first name] speaking.” That way the caller knew who the heck he was talking to w/o having to ask. It’s a very basic bit of manners that has been completely lost.

    As a note, I live in the American south, and I do not think manners are any better here than in the midwest, where I grew up. Only once in my fifteen years here, for example, has a kid held a door open for me. The kids down here might go around saying ma’am or sir, but that in and of itself is not manners, especially if they have no problem pushing an adult out of the way going through a door, etc.

  38. Miss Mea-Mea says

    Louise, although I like the idea of returning to a more polite telephone greeting, I would add that callers aren’t always someone that one knows or even that one would want to have given personal information to. I’m thinking of course of the worst case scenario, a child predator, but there’s also telemarketers, surveyers, and scam artists. So saying simply “hello” and not volunteering any further information until the caller identifies him/herself is just being cautious.

    As for manners in general, I was always taught to address my elders as Mr. or Mrs. or Miss, depending on the person. It was then up to that person to correct me and let me know if they preferred a different form of address. And that was pretty standard at that time. All my friends referred to my parents as Mr. and Mrs. although for my closer friends, the wackier ones sometimes got away with calling them Mr. and Mrs. P, just the initial. But never, NEVER by their first name. I am from New Jersey, for what that’s worth.

    Today, in Delaware, I have always been kind of shocked at the informality encouraged. I think today’s parents don’t want to feel “old” and being addressed as Mr. or Mrs. makes them think of their OWN parents. When I met my husband and was introduced to his parents, I immediately began to address them as Mr. and Mrs. and they were fine with that. However, as time went on and my husband and I got married, my mother-in-law wanted me to call her “Mom” and it felt so strange and artificial with me that I have continued to address her as “Mrs.” I am getting better at calling her “Mom” but still occasionally lapse. What’s weird though is that when I call her “Mrs,” other people have commented that they find it strange that I refer to her so formally and wonder what kind of relationhip we have!!! And I am pretty close with her, too!

    My son will be 3 soon. I would like to teach him to address his elders as “Mr.” or “Ms.” or “Mrs.” but I’m not sure yet, given this wacky chummy new adult name custom. And somehow “Mr. John” or “Miss Mary” just seems awkward to me. I guess we’ll teach him Mr. and Mrs. and Ms. and just try to explain to the adults that they can immediately ask for their preferred form of address.

    As for other manners, we have taught our son to say please and thank you and your welcome. He says “excuse me” when there’s some sort of bodily function sound (grin). He says “bless you” when someone sneezes. Sometimes we have to remind him, but on the whole, he’s a pretty polite kid. My husband went one step further and started teaching him longer sentences when asking for something, like “Mommy, may I have some juice please?” At first I thought he was being too strict, but now that our son does it, I realized that it’s expecting more out of your children that helps them learn. Since then, we have also taught him to greet someone with a friendly “hello”, shake hands if it’s a man, and somehow he wound up learning to give everyone hugs when going bye-bye or to bed. My contribution to this has been “Mommy, may I be excused, please?” when he’s finished with dinner. He’s welcome to play quietly at the table until everyone else is done, or play on his own, but he knows that until everyone else is done with dinner, he won’t be having dessert and he can’t try dragging us from our seats to come play with him.

    He’s a rambunctious little boy, and he needs reminding sometimes, but we keep at it. I’m a lot easier going than my in-laws are about manners and I’ve found myself in embarrassing situations when our son exhibits behavior that seems totally fine with me at home (playing with food, goofing at the table, banging things and playing at the table, jumping on the couch, etc) but is totally NOT OKAY in other peoples’ homes or out in public. So as much as I want to think “kids will be kids” and let him do his thing, I have to remember that what he learns is going to stick long-term with him.

    And yeah, we’ve found that teaching manners has definitely made us dust off our OWN manners. I try to always use the same manners that I am teaching him, but my husband has reminded me a few times when I didn’t thank our son or say please for something! :)

    I agree with a previous post that said (paraphrased) it’s a valueable lesson to learn how to differentiate between formal and casual situations and act accordingly.

    Great post! There are some suggestions here that I really want to try!

  39. says

    (Waving to Miss Mea-Mea, hi, neighbor!)

    Some of the issues are not just technology-manners undefined, but the degree of movement from one region to another also messes with the assumptions. I recall reading in some study or other about human behavior that in some areas, the person standing before you takes priority over one who cannot see you, and in others, the one who cannot see you takes priority because they do not know that you are busy. So, in the former, one ignores the phone and talks to the person, and in the latter, one excuses oneself from the person at hand and answers the phone. If you mix those two, you get a lot of discomfort, and we ended up with … the discomfort, but no rule. Ignoring the phone still makes some people uncomfortable, being ignored in favor of the phone makes others uncomfortable. And sometimes both at once.

    As for manners, my mom took a course in protocol (which is advanced manners for dignitaries) in DC back in the 60’s. She said that the rule was ‘make the other person comfortable first’. That’s underlying kindness to others is the underpinning of every rule. There were a lot of how-to’s, but there was really only one rule (or rather, two – that you can break any rule provided you do it with style).

    We decided to be polite to each other (DH and I) before we had kids, on the grounds that manners and politeness were even more important to offer those we love than those we don’t even know. It stops being ‘formal’ quite quickly, not starchy at all. The basics (please/thank you/excuse me/you’re welcome) are standards, but understanding how to observe others and act in a way that allows greater comfort for others (catching the door for someone, for example) is a big part of it.

    Modeling it seems to work, since our kids frequently get praised for being well-mannered and/or well-behaved. Though we also have high expectations, and we’ll get praise for their behavior when we think it was still way off from the goal…

  40. Encarnacion says

    I am not yet a parent in the traditional sense nor even very close to being as such. I have had the luxury of parents that expected me to respect any adult with whom I’d be interacting, and taught me all about the titles “Mr./Mrs./Miss” because of this. I went on to attend a small university far from home, and there nearly everyone from incoming freshmen to the university President are on a first name basis. I tried to assimilate to this for a while, but just found it far too awkward, and went to using “Doctor McFarland,” et c. for all faculty and doctorate staff. I found this to be helpful as many of the freshmen that I had as friends in my senior year used the titles more than it had been done in my own first year there. Now I am something like a foster parent in another country, and I immensely enjoy it when “my nephews and nieces” show respect to the adults around them, especially to those responsible for caring for them, by using the terms and behavior appropriate for this interaction. Keep in mind that these wonderfully behaved kids, 11 of “verbal” age and 4 not quite there yet, were living in abuse or neglect just months earlier, and still carry unseen baggage and seen scars from such treatment. If they can do this, how much more a child that is fortunate to have a loving parent or two or four. :)

  41. says

    I hadn’t really put words on our concept of politeness before now, but I think I can best sum it up by saying we think that everyday etiquette grows out of a sustained sense of connectedness to others. A sense of connectedness is especially important to our family because we adopted our kids from Russia when they were 3 and 4.

    Along with “Please,” “Thank you,” “Excuse me,” greeting and seeing off visitors, and so on, we also model and enforce cleaning up, sharing, taking turns, and gracefully helping those who need help. I can’t tell you how proud I feel when my kids, who have been home only 20 months, spontaneously help smaller children, offer visiting adults a seat, or ask me to give away an item of outgrown clothing to someone who needs it (yes, my former orphans are giving to charity). I like to think my kids do these things because they feel they belong to, and are therefore partly responsible for, a community.

  42. says

    Reading through the comments of this article, I think most of us parents are right on. Many of the “requirements” of proper etiquette for children from the 1950’s is probably not really applicable anymore – in fact, I’d like to go back in time and see how many of these rules were really followed, I mean come on. Kids were kids in the 1950’s just like they are now.

    Politeness and respect, these principles need to endure generation after generation. Please, thank you, you’re welcome, excuse me, etc. should be automatic. “Talking in a low, even voice”, I’m not so sure about that one…

  43. says

    My mother-in-law preferred to be called by her first name. She would say, “Don’t call me Mrs. Critelli, that’s my mother-in-law.”

    This made it awkward when it came time to start working with our children in etiquette. I was raised in the south, too, and to this day if I ran in to the parents of any of my friends (assuming they are even still alive), I would be unlikely to call them by their first names.

    To add to the confusion, we were part of a church that felt that as brothers and sisters in Christ we should all call each other by our first names, with no titles. “Do you call your brother ‘Brother Bill’?” they would reason. The only exceptions they made were for the Pastors.

    Good grief.

    The way we worked this out was to have our kids default to Mr. and Mrs. Usually the more informal ones would say, “Call me Judy.” But if they didn’t, or if there was any awkwardness, we taught the kids to inquire if there was something else they preferred to be called. My son in particular was very articulate at 18 months, and he was legendary in our area for his politeness.

    Now that our kids are grown, can you believe this? I recently told one of my daughter’s friends, who has called me Mrs. Critelli all her life, “Mrs. Critelli was my mother-in-law, you can call me Susan.”

  44. says

    I absolutely despise when someone calls me Maam. That’s for OLD WOMEN! I get quite nasty is people do that, so it only happens once. My kids’ friends just call me A’s mom or T’s mom. I call everyone by their first name, from Senators to the Governor. It’s just the say I am. Guess being a reporter, I have seen too much to have that much respect for people. I know their dark secrets.

  45. says

    I bought a book — a library book sale — called The Essential 55. It is a compilation (created by educators) of the 55 things that teachers want to see in students. I was surprised to find many of them were what I would call old fashioned or Southern Belle manners. But if it works to get my kid more success in the classroom, I’ll play the game.

  46. Penny says

    I am not sure I care what specific rules of etiquette are taught – but some time should be invested in teaching them that standards exist! Children who have never been taught that they should be aware of who is in the room or that there are expectations placed on their behavior end up acting like like savages. What has been lost is the idea that there is some orderliness in interpersonal relationships. These poor kids are having to reinvent the wheel on social interactions with the attendant confusion and miscues that go along with that.

    OH – and no cell phones at restaurants!

  47. Dixie Amazon says

    In southern Louisiana many children are instructed to use Mr. or Miss with close family friends, i.e. Mr. John or Miss Jane instead of Mr. or Mrs. Doe.

  48. Jean says

    Interesting article! We live in an area where all the children use Mr/Mrs/Miss to address adults. I have only been called by my first name once, by a European family. It may surprise many of you but we live in Southern California, not the South!

  49. Ryan says

    My boys are required to always answer their elders with yes sir, no sir, yes ma’am, or no ma’am. No exceptions to this rule. I am very strict on manners.

  50. Tyler says

    We require our 4 boys (ages 10, 12, 15 and 16) to say yes ma’am/no ma’am and yes sir/no sir. We don’t tolerate yeah, naw, huh or even a plain yes or no. They learned early on that they must always use sir and ma’am when speaking to all adults.