Experts share age-appropriate etiquette lessons for kids

Michelle Overmiller
(Photo by Chris Dunn)

By JEN BAKER
for Smart

I love it when I catch my kids using good manners.

Sometimes it makes me smile, like the time my 3-year-old son was particularly excited to go to preschool and exclaimed, “Oh, thank you, Mommy!” when we pulled into the parking lot.

Other times, it makes me proud, like the many times I’ve witnessed my very outgoing 6-year-old daughter shake hands and say, “It’s nice to meet you!” when she’s introduced to a grownup.

When my children behave politely, it gives me hope that they’re picking up my husband’s and my good habits — and not just the bad ones.

“The whole point of manners is to make others feel comfortable, and to show respect for others,” explained Heidi Thomas, certified etiquette trainer for the Sparkle & Shine Model Charm School at Greater York Dance in Springettsbury Township.

“Positivity and manners can spread with some effort.”

Teaching manners can help children figure out the respectful, considerate or kind thing to do.

Asking for permission, knocking before entering and holding doors open for others are also good manners. So are keeping negative comments to yourself and not picking your nose in public.

“In today’s world, manners extend beyond special formal events,” Thomas said. “Manners are expected at social gatherings, in the classroom, at after-school activities and also in the technology that is commonly used today.”

Teaching manners to children takes time, practice, patience, consistency and plenty of reinforcement.

Age-appropriate etiquette

At what age should your kids know to set the table, say ‘thank you’ or know how to share?

We asked the experts for age-appropriate etiquette tips.

Here’s a Smart guide to raising polite, well-mannered children who know how to act and be comfortable in various situations.

AT AGES 1 TO 2

  1. Children should say please and thank you
  2. Children should say hello and goodbye
  3. Children should stay seated while eating

“This is a good age to use books and stories to teach sharing, please and thank you,” said Michelle Overmiller, parenting coach and owner of Innovative Parenting Solutions in York.

She suggests encouraging younger children to use manners, and reinforcing appropriate behavior when you catch your child using manners without your prompt.

“This age is also a good time to teach young children to keep their hands and feet to themselves,” she said.

AT AGES 2 TO 3

  1. Children should follow simple table etiquette (such as eating with utensils and using a napkin)
  2. Children should say excuse me (especially after burping, passing gas or when trying to get someone’s attention)
  3. Children should know how to share and take turns

At this age, Thomas suggests teaching a child when it’s acceptable to use the word ‘no.’ She said this is also a good age to help a child accept being told ‘no’.

“Instead of telling a child ‘no’ all the time, help them be right,” she said. “For example, if they’re standing on a chair, don’t say ‘no’, say ‘bottom on chair’ instead. Simple directions change the tone.”

AT AGES 4 TO 6

  1. Children should have expanded table manners (such as chewing with their mouth closed, not talking with a mouth full of food, saying ‘please pass’ instead of reaching)
  2. Children should learn to respect personal space
  3. Children should make eye contact
  4. Children should wait for their turn to talk, rather than interrupt

“Making eye contact is very important to reinforce,” Overmiller advised. “It’s an important skill for starting school.”

AT AGES 7 TO 9

  1. Children should continue to build table manners (such as keeping elbows off the table, cutting food with a knife, taking one bite at a time)
  2. Children should learn to properly set the table
  3. Children should learn conversation skills, listening skills, and what’s appropriate to say when meeting new people
  4. Children should learn phone skills such as asking who is calling or taking a detailed message
  5. Children should understand safe and unsafe behavior when it comes to technology like texting, Facebook and email

Overmiller also encourages parents to review manners for certain situations. “Being proactive is important,” she said.

In her Sparkle & Shine classes, Thomas also covers the subject of teasing with her 8- to 10-year-old students.

She encourages anyone that is teased to laugh it off because the teaser will lose interest if they don’t get a reaction.

She stresses that if the teaser is making you feel bad or awkward, tell the teaser “I need you to stop” since using “I” in a statement is non-confrontational.

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