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Help Your Child Develop These Basic Social Skills
I’m probably going to sound like a crotchety curmudgeon with this post, but I intend to address a real issue: Parents, please impart to your children what many of us like to call “home training.” Kids who lack home training have the manners of a swarm of houseflies and the social graces of a troop of baboons. In other words, ill-mannered kids are annoying to be around. Kids who have home training are well-liked by their peers and adults.
Kids don’t come out of the womb knowing how to act. They have to be taught manners just like they have to be taught to poop in the toilet and how to tie their shoes. Of course, we all know how great the divide between what you teach your kids and how they choose to act. Some kids don’t care to tie their shoes and others do unspeakable things with their excrement. Don’t be discouraged if your kids don’t get it all at once and still act like little Barbarians from time to time, but I think that way too many parents these days simply don’t teach their kids manners. That ain’t cool.
Here is a list of nine manners and social graces that I think every parent should help their kids develop:
1. Look people in the eye. They don’t have to stare, but it’s rude not to make eye contact when someone is speaking. Teach kids to look at eyebrows or noses if looking directly into someone’s eyes feels too intimidating.
2. Greet people and respond to greetings. This seems like a no-brainier, but I cannot tell you how many times I’ve said hello to children/teens only to be met with blank stares. Encourage your kids to smile and greet people they know and to respond politely to greetings from people they may not know as well.
3. Use courtesy titles (Mr., Mrs., Ms., Dr., Rev., etc.). No child under 18 should address an adult by their first name unless given leave to do so by that adult. If a child only knows the adult’s first name Mr. Jack or Miss Jill will suffice.
4. Say vital information slowly and clearly. When you teach your child to recite their vital information (name, address, phone number, birthday) teach them to speak slowly and as clearly as possible. The point isn’t to say it fast, but rather to recite the information in a way that can be understood.
5. Say ‘excuse me.’ The phrase ‘excuse me’ has many uses and it is probably the most important social grace that a parent can teach because it can be used in so many different situations.
6. Respond quickly and politely to (safe) requests from grown ups. Our fear of evil befalling our children has bred a culture where kids have little regard for adults. This is unfortunate because most adults aren’t out to harm kids. Teach your children what kinds of requests they should and shouldn’t respond to from adults. Not all strangers are bad and there are times when a stranger may be telling them something that will keep them safe. We really need to shift from teaching our kids about ‘stranger danger’ and instead teach them about ‘tricky people.’ I believe that doing so will release parents from a lot of fear, empower our children, and empower other adults to look after kids’ well-being without fear.
7. Empower them to politely say no to grown ups. Teach your child that if someone, even an adult, asks them to do something that crosses certain lines or otherwise makes them feel uncomfortable that they have the right to say no. This sounds like the opposite of my previous point, but it isn’t. Children should listen to safe requests from adults but shouldn’t hesitate to say no and get away from adults who ask them to do things that aren’t okay. Support your child when s/he tells an adult no (and use it as a teachable moment if they make a mistake).
8. Teach them how to conduct themselves in public. Teach your kids that climbing, yelling, jumping, shoving, spinning, throwing, etc. are not acceptable in most public spaces. Kids should never jump on, climb over, or try to take things from other people unless they’ve been invited to do so.
9. Don’t interrupt people when they are speaking to one another (unless it’s an emergency). Kids who interrupt conversation between adults are rude and annoying. Don’t let your kid be ‘that kid.’ Teach them to wait until they’ve been acknowledged to speak, and if it’s important teach them to say ‘excuse me’ before cutting in. This isn’t about making your kid a lower priority; it’s about teaching them that not everyone is required to give their full attention immediately.