Manners matter.

By Betsy Cribb
Updated December 16, 2020
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Southern parents may not expect perfection, but boy howdy, they expect politeness. From the time Southern children are old enough to talk, they're taught the importance of minding their p’s and q’s, saying “yes ma’am” and “no sir,” and treating others with kindness and respect. And they’re expected to continue minding those manners long after they leave the nest. After all, you’re never too young or too old to be polite. Here, nine etiquette lessons every child should learn this year.

How to introduce themselves

You only get to make one first impression, and how you introduce yourself often determines the kind of impression you make. This lesson is essential as it's a three-for-one learning opportunity: Showing children how to properly introduce themselves teaches them first, to share their first and last names with their new acquaintances; second, to look that person directly in the eye when speaking to them; and third, how to give a good handshake (a firm, but gentle squeeze is the name of the game).

How to graciously receive gifts

It's no secret that young children don't have much of a filter, but it's important to teach them to accept gifts—even the ones they don't like—with a "thank you" and a smile. Teach them well, and it'll save you from serious embarrassment when they unwrap birthday socks from dear Aunt Linda…for the third year in the row. Once your children are old enough to write, buy them some stationery and teach them the art of the handwritten thank you note.

How to give people space

While the pandemic has certainly given us a new appreciation for maintaining distance, it’s always prudent to teach children to respect others’ personal space: That means no hovering, no close-talking, and minding boundaries.

How to behave at the dinner table

Whether eating at home, a restaurant, or their grandmother's house, children should know the basics of dining etiquette and table manners. No, they don't need to know the difference between a dinner fork and a salad fork at the tender age of five, but they should know how to politely ask for someone to fill their plates or share the dinner rolls (after all, while we love To Kill a Mockingbird's spunky Scout, asking someone to "pass the damn ham, please" just won't do). Children should also learn to keep their napkins in their laps, their elbows off the table, and their mouths closed while they chew.

How to behave online

With screens becoming ubiquitous in children's lives, it's more important than ever to remind them that manners matter as much online as they do in person. That means only writing, sharing, and posting things that they'd be comfortable with their teacher, preacher, and grandmother seeing.

How to accept compliments

Here's a lesson we adults could stand to learn, too. It's tempting to shrug off a compliment with a self-deprecating joke, a throwaway compliment volleyed in return, or an "oh hush;" but a sincere compliment should always be accepted with a simple, "Thank you. That's so kind of you to say." Children who know how to politely accept compliments grow up to be adults who know how to politely accept compliments.

How to offer compliments

Equally important to teaching children how to accept compliments is teaching kids how to give them. Sincerity should always be the driving force behind compliments, and while praising someone’s hair or dress is nice, it’s the genuine acknowledgement of a person’s best character traits, like thoughtfulness or positivity, that rank the most memorable.

How to be inclusive

Equip your children to make others feel welcome. Teach them the importance of inviting those who are left out to join the playground game and those who are sitting alone to pull up a seat at the lunch table. It's what Southern hospitality is about.

How to show respect to others

Etiquette and good manners are all rooted in the most important lesson children should learn: how to treat people with respect. Everyone deserves to be shown kindness and respect, whether that's through saying "yes sir" and "no ma'am," offering a smile, or holding the door.

Of course, at the end of the day, children will be children, and sometimes, when things go awry, all you can do is show your children—and other parents with misbehaving children—a little grace and a little patience. That's just good manners.