We can all agree that it is important to teach children to practice and use good manners. What is perhaps less certain is how well-mannered should we expect our children to be? Which manners are important and which are just excessive?
I think that it is up to each parent to make that decision, but here are a few guidelines to help you figure it out.
There's no point doing something if it serves no purpose, so first, we need to consider why we use manners. Broadly speaking, our manners serve to make other people feel comfortable and respected. So really, anything that helps to achieve this can be considered good manners. Etiquette can vary among cultures, so no set of rules can apply to all.
There are two types of manners. Let's call them formal manners and informal manners. In this article I'll deal with formal manners, and in the next one I'll go informal.
These are the "please" and "thank you" manners. How does saying "please" fulfil the guidelines of good manners? Well, to say "I want the drink" does not acknowledge the other person at all, it is quite a self-centred request. To say "May I please have the drink?" acknowledges the other person's role in either allowing or handing over the drink. Acknowledgement is a way of showing respect.
Teaching a child to answer the phone well is another example of formal manners. Imagine the following scenario:
I make a phone call, a child answers:
Me: "Hello, this is Monica. Who is this?"
Me: "Hi Shelly, how are you?"
Me: "Oh, good! Is your mum there?"
Me: "Oh. Uh, do you know where she is?"
Me: "Well... can you go get her?"
Doesn't make me very comfortable, right? Let's give the child some formal manners:
Child: "Hello, this is Shelly."
Me: "Oh, hi Shelly, this is Monica, how are you?"
Child: "Good thanks, Monica (or Mrs. S if you like), how are you?"
Me: "I'm great. Is your mum there?"
Shelly: "She's gone down to feed the chickens. I think she will be back in about ten minutes. Can I take a message?"
Me: "No, just ask her if she could call me back."
Me: "Thanks!" etc
Much more comfortable!
How about using a knife and fork? This is a cultural thing, so in some places, it may be perfectly good manners to pick up your dinner in your fingers and burp at the end of the meal. Not so much where I come from. The need for good formal table manners is less of a requirement in today's society, but there are still a few that I believe are necessary; for example, asking to leave the table makes the host feel respected and keeps order in the house, so people feel more comfortable. Using an inside voice makes it less chaotic and easier for people to interact. Table manners are much more important when eating out of the home, at a restaurant or a friend's house.
So test each of your manners lessons and decide if they are worthwhile. My own feeling is if you're unsure, err on the side of more manners, kids can't be criticised for being too well behaved.