Do You Teach Your Children Manners?

13/02/2012 22:06 | Updated 22 May 2015
Do you teach your children manners?Getty

We are now more polite as a society than we were 20 years ago, according to the findings of the Young Foundation.

If you regularly commute, battle with road rage or suffer surly shop assistants, this might come as a surprise to you. It did to me.

I think we'd all pretty much agree that we teach our children to say Please and Thank You, within the confines of our own homes, but what do we do beyond that?

The report maintains that "Civility is the largely invisible glue that holds communities together." The report suggested that basic manners include giving up seats to the elderly and pregnant, picking up litter, respect for neighbours, and courteous behaviour towards shop assistants and strangers.

As a child it was an expectation that I'd give up my seat on a bus or train to an adult. My mum used to poke me and say "Stand up!" I've lost count of the number of times I have stood on a packed train whilst toddlers, young enough to be sat on their parents' laps, have occupied seats, their parents oblivious.

It was also drummed into me to thank my friends' parents for having me as a visitor, or after taking me out somewhere. I was instructed to come home as soon as my friends' mums started making tea - in case it looked as if I was hankering for an invite to stay! Ah, the quaint 1960s!

Manners can really make or break your day. Last week in the space of one day, an elderly man held a shop door open for me, I smiled and said thanks. I held it open for the middle-aged woman behind me and she uttered not a word. I was served by an assistant who may as well not have been there: she said nothing during the entire transaction. A driver honked her horn at me when I hesitated at some traffic lights. She was not to know that I had driven for six hours since dawn and was lost in a strange town. But it annoyed me and was unnecessary, impolite behaviour.


But do you teach your children anything beyond saying Please and Thank You, and if so, what? To give up seats on buses, carry heavy bags for the elderly, thank families for having them, and hold open doors for mums struggling with buggies?


Emily is insistent on good manners. "Manners are very important in our family - almost to the point of being sexist - but I feel that if we don't have a social structure well, a lot breaks down.

We teach our seven-year-old to give up his seat on the bus, move aside on the path, open doors, and all that sort of thing. We teach the girls respect for the elderly, giving up seats for the elderly. I always make a point of commenting loudly to the children on the pleasantness of other people's manners we have experienced."

Julie told me, "My mum used to say manners maketh man and boy it is true. Manners maketh a teenager! As the parent of a 16-year-old, to be be greeted with a simple but warm "Hello Julie" by his pals speaks volumes. Some of course just grunt but others are a joy with their friendly jokes and happy smiles. I have asked my son above all to listen. When folk talk, listen and ask how they are. In this world of me, me, me, a listening teenager is a rare breed!"

Angie is a stickler for manners though she admits, "I have less success with table manners however as my husband isn't the best example on that front! Basically, he wolfs it down and scarpers! My children always thank people for having them and say excuse me. I personally can't bear it when a child just takes something from you without a thank you. I have told my children if they are polite while at someone else's house, adults will like them a lot more and they will be far more likely to be asked back!"

A personal bug-bear of mine is not being thanked for presents I've sent for Christmas or birthdays. All that time and effort to buy, wrap and post - then nothing. Consequently I'd nag my own children - I even bought the thank you cards and stamps. Even now I have to remind them, although these days it's usually a quick text or a phone call, which is fine.

It costs nothing to practice good manners. I know that if someone lets me out of a junction in busy traffic, or holds the door open for me, I am far more inclined to do the same for someone else, rather than be a miserable old cow scowling at everyone.

Good manners are catching or, as the Young report puts it: "Civility is contagious."

As parents, could we all do better, I wonder?

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