Nice is a Non-Negotiable

Being a good person is something I value. I value it in my life and I value it for my children’s lives. It is one of my top parenting priorities to create and foster nice children who know their manners. This, of course, is easier said than done and doesn’t just happen because we parents got “lucky” with a kid who has a nice personality. Niceness and manners need to be modeled and developed relentlessly.

In Montessori schools courtesy is taught as a section of learning equal to math, reading, and science. It is one of the things that really confirmed my love for Montessori schools and spoke to what I was already trying to work on with the students in my classroom. I am an educator in a far more traditional school system, but one that also values creating good people that also happen to be educated and college ready. Through both work and my children I am constantly reminded that being nice and polite doesn’t just make a pleasant child to have at home and school, but makes a successful kid to boot!

So here is our list of the basic politeness expectations in our home and how we achieved each one:

  • Say Please, Thank You, You’re Welcome, Bless You, Excuse Me when necessary.  We accomplished this by modeling. Do you say “Thank You” when your spouse brings you something? If the answer is “no”, then why do you expect your kids to? When the kids were very little we exaggerated this, now it comes second nature. That doesn’t mean they don’t need a reminder every now and again.
  • Requests must be made in a polite way in a proper* tone of voice. “May I have a napkin, please?”    Again, modeling is key here. Also when they ask incorrectly we ask them to try again properly. In the beginning we would help in the rephrasing, for example “I want juice.” becomes “I would like juice, please.” and ask the child to repeat it back before granting the request. If they cannot rephrase or continue to ask improperly then the request will not be met. *No whining, yelling, or demanding.
  • You must ask to be excused from the table during meal or snack times. It sounds like this “May I be excused, please?” We eat all of our meals at the table and as much as possible as a family. The kids are expected to stay in their seats until the meal is finished, not just until they are done eating. This is also a way to stop my sometimes picky eaters from not eating their veggies. We do a spot check on if they are really done eating. No clean plate club, but two bites of broccoli before you get up! This is also a good practice in patience. It helps when we go out to a restaurant because they don’t immediately think they can get up or it is time to leave just because they happen to be done eating.
  • Response when being called or given a direction is “Yes, Mommy” or “Yes, Daddy” in return the response to a child is “Yes, child’s name.” This is to show respect for each other and to prevent my kids from rudely yelling “what” when I call for them. This works in reverse too. When my daughter calls “Moooomy” and I want to snap at her “WHAT!?”, I am reminded to take a breath and say, “Yes, Sadie?”. When giving directions the Yes, Mommy rule is a formal “I heard you.” It was one of my big take-aways after reading “On Becoming Childwise” by Gary Ezzo and Robert Bucknam.

At five and almost three my kids are capable of all of the above consistently. We are now ready to move on to bigger courtesy goals. So here are a list of things we are working on:

  • Greeting adult guests properly in our home or function. We are practicing saying our names clearly when introducing ourselves (my daughter) and standing still while doing so (my son).
  • How to politely interrupt a conversation between adults. For when they need to talk to me or my husband but we are busy, we are working on using the “hand on me and wait” method discussed in Childwise.
  • How to be aware of others around you by holding doors, avoiding running into people, etc. I saw my best friend, mother of three boys (Yes, she is a saint), teaching her boys how to hold doors for others and I kicked myself for not teaching my own kids that common courtesy too! I also cringe every time my kids almost bulldoze someone at the grocery store because that aren’t paying attention to their surroundings.
  •  How to host peers and adults in our home.  As my daughter gets more into playdates with her friends I want her to feel comfortable and confident greeting her friends and explaining the ground rules of our home. I also want my children to feel comfortable greeting adult guests without being over the top and acting crazy, which is a current problem in our house.

I am very excited to continue working on and expanding my kids courtesy and manners. What is something that you teach your kids to help develop nice behavior?


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