Etiquette Lessons Every Child Should Learn This Year

Manners matter.

Southern parents may not expect perfection, but they expect politeness. When Southern children are old enough to talk, properly addressing others is taught by saying "yes ma'am" and "no sir" and treating others with kindness and respect.

Continuing to mind those manners long after leaving the next is also expected. After all, you're never too young or too old to be polite. Etiquette is simply abiding by the customary behaviors deemed appropriate for society to ensure a civilized culture. Certain cultures will have varying customs, but respect is a general theme throughout any community. Here are etiquette lessons every child should learn this year.

Basic Etiquette Lessons for Kids

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 introduce themselves properly 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.

How to graciously receive gifts

It's no secret that young children don't have much of a filter, but it's essential 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 Lind (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 undoubtedly 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, at a restaurant, or at 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. Still, 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" 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 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 as adults who know how to accept compliments politely.

How to offer compliments

Equally crucial to teaching children how to accept compliments is teaching kids how to give them. Sincerity should always be the driving force behind compliments. While praising someone's hair or dress is excellent, the genuine acknowledgment 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 left out to join the playground game and those sitting alone to pull up a seat at the lunch table—it's basic Southern hospitality.

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 by saying "yes sir" and "no ma'am," offering a smile or holding the door.

Of course, 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.

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