Dear Parent Coach,
How does one get a 7-year-old boy to “mind his manners?” My son needs to be constantly reminded about how to act at the table, and he is very unresponsive (borderline disrespectful) when dealing with other adults. His other siblings seem to try harder.
Manners Matter to Mom
Dear Manners Matter,
Your son probably has a whole lot of other things on his mind that are more interesting and fun than remembering to put his napkin in his lap before eating. The list of proper must do’s goes on and on, and a 7-year-old boy couldn’t care less about any of them.
Most parents, however, do care about instructing children in the social graces, and they should. After all, when children are observed by others outside of the home, they tend to make either a favorable or unfavorable impression, and much of this comes from manners learned within the four walls of their own home.
Parents are keenly aware that their child’s behavior reflects somewhat on their own parenting prowess, and the efforts they are making to refine their diamond in the rough. Most parents would like a good grade on their parenting report card in this subject of manners.
Manners are so much more than an index of do’s and don’ts that parents demand of children simply to irritate them. Manners form a basis of respect between family members first at home, and then eventually manners grow with a child to include respectfulness toward school friends, college acquaintances, and future co-workers and employers.
Manners form a map of behaviors that give children confidence in how to act in various situations. They provide children with a degree of comfort, knowing they are acting in socially acceptable ways.
As a child masters age-appropriate manners and continues to add to his list of mannerly skills, he will discover not only a growing sense of competence, but will also notice positive vibes coming in his direction from others. This increases his self-esteem, feelings of well-being and capability in his world.
Of course, children know nothing of these far-reaching manner manifestations, so it falls on parents to care most about them, and to understand the eventual benefits in their child’s life.
However, even parents who are convinced of the importance, can find manner patrol a tiring and never-ending process.
It’s easy for parents to forget how long it takes children to firmly establish habits, and how much reinforcing is required. But the efforts parents invest eventually will be satisfying and well rewarded.
Pam Hillings Tegtmeyer, a local manners consultant, is hired by businesses that are concerned about the lack of social graces evident in newly hired, young employees just out of college.
Before sending them out to business lunches and dinners, Tegtmeyer instructs these young adults on the fine points of social graces and table etiquette.
Perhaps the disappearance of family meals in busy family life today, is contributing to etiquette-handicapped young adults years down the road. Eating meals at the family table is the primary way children practice and habituate table manners and conversational skills.
Which brings us back to your 7-year-old son. Continue to instruct him in the family manners you deem important, but don’t expect him to care. Because his siblings try harder at manners, they will be good models for him and offer a little peer pressure. However, he shouldn’t be singled out or made the object of correction at every family meal.
Be patient, offer praise at his occasional success, and keep reminding him gently when needed. After all, your reward will be knowing that someday he’ll be able to sit at a business dinner and feel confident about exactly which fork to use — after first putting his napkin in his lap, of course.
This is one of those areas of parenting that requires a tremendous amount of energy out of the starting gate, then gets easier when the momentum gets going. There will be no need to hire a manners consultant, because you are a mom who sees and cares how much manners matter and that they will eventually have some far reaching impact on your children’s lives.
1. Prioritize the list of table manners you wish to teach your son. Work on one at a time.
2. Don’t let your son’s disinterest regarding manners stop you from working with him. Gently push forward, with a sense of humor if possible.
3. Post the “manner of the week” on the fridge, so the whole family can work on it together, thereby encouraging your son.
4. Keep a list of “manners mastered,” so your son can see the progress he’s made.
5. Take care not to embarrass or put your son down when he makes mistakes.
6. Coach your son on respectful etiquette as he relates to other adults. Practice with role playing.
7. When your son has mastered your top five table manners, allow him to invite five friends over for a pizza-fest to show how much he’s learned.
8. Role play social situations (parties, etc.) before your son attends, so he’ll know what’s expected.