Teaching your child manners is one of the most important things you'll do as a parent. A child who has good manners will grow into a respectful adult. Adults who have poor manners tend to have a much harder time socializing, and will often become socially awkward and hard to like. By helping your child learn manners at a young age, you're setting them up for success.
Appropriate Manners for Ages 2-5
Between the ages of two and five your child will be at their most receptive to lessons about manners. This is just one reason that it is so important for you to begin working with them as early as possible. For two-year-olds try to keep the instruction simple. If you can teach them to say please and thank you at the appropriate times then you may consider yourself successful at teaching them age-appropriate manners.
They may not yet know what the words mean, but they should be using them. As your child ages, the lessons should get more complex. A three year old can be taught not to throw food, for example, and an older child who can manipulate utensils can be taught to properly use a knife, fork, and spoon. Just be sure to keep your lessons consistent, positive, and patient. Young children will need lots of help to learn and then remember their manners.
You can best serve them by demonstrating your own good manners and then helping them remember theirs when you catch them in a mistake. If your child forgets to use their napkin, for instance, you might ask what we use to wipe our faces. You will have more success with this kind of approach than you will have scolding them.
Appropriate Manners for Ages 5-7
When your child is old enough to leave the house and spend significant parts of the day without you, you will be able to expect more of them. At this point in their development, your child is capable of displaying basic table manners, carrying on conversations, making polite greetings, accepting and making compliments, basic introductions, and respecting the feelings of others.
Now you need to be prepared to build upon that foundation. If your child hasn't quite reached this point yet then you will want to set that as a goal. Otherwise, you should begin working with your child on more sophisticated manners. Be prepared to continue reviewing the manners that your child has already mastered, though.
A good time to do this might be before an important meal out or a sleep over at a friend's house, as you do not want your child to forget their manners under pressure. Do a quick review on the car ride over. If you are there with your child, you may help them out by providing a prompt for forgotten manners, but you will not always be able to be there.
Manners for Older Children
As your child gets older, they may be less willing to work on their manners with you. This is the time to really reinforce your standards for etiquette with them. They may not be willing to take on new rules, but you can still hold them to a certain standard of behavior at home and in public. Make sure that you do. This will help you to nip any developing bad habits in the bud and raise respectful and polite children instead.
Once your child is old enough to know better than to engage in certain behaviors, begin growing firmer with them about their manners. It's understandable for a four year old to make some mistakes at the table, but an eight year old does know better. If you catch an older child talking with their mouth full or eating with their hands instead of their utensils, for example, firmly remind them about your expectations. Older children will try to find ways to push your boundaries, and this may be one of those ways.
Once you've given a stern reminder, issue a punishment if the problem persists. Make sure the punishment is proportionate to the crime! If your child is simply talking with their mouth full, taking video games away for a month is extreme. A more appropriate punishment might be taking video games away for a week. By giving a consequence when your child has been given a previous warning, you'll establish that rules about manners are firm and are not to be tested.
With the right guidance, your child will grow into a respectful, well-mannered adult. Learning manners takes time and patience on both ends. Remember that young children will take a while to really get a grip on good manners. Remind them regularly, and set a good example by showing good manners yourself.