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Building good manners

Building good manners

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Daleen Taylor
Manners are the building blocks of future leaders.

Friday, August 31st, 2018

Episode 2 - Part 1 Episode 2 - Part 2

My favourite quote is by American author on etiquette, Emily Post, as it perfectly describes my approach to building a child with manners: “Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use.” Although teaching practical manners like table setting, restaurant behaviour and saying ‘Please’ and ‘Thank you’ are essential, the goal of manners coaching is to have a positive response from the child and an understanding as to why they are expected to use the manner in the first place – basically, what’s in it for them if they use the manner or social skill, and what they can expect if they don’t. We need to show them why they are expected to use this set of social skills and explain the consequence. This understanding creates buy-in.

How to communicate
To achieve this participation and willingness in our children, parents need to take the time to communicate ‘unwanted’ behaviour – without shouting or nagging, but rather by using assertive words. Should the unwanted behaviour be something like misbehaving and whining while shopping, a clear statement should sound like this: “Your behaviour was not acceptable while we were shopping. I could not concentrate on what I needed to do while you were whining and nagging and running all over the place. When we get home, we are going to take a star off from your star chart and next time I go shopping you will have to stay at home.”

Of course, when ‘wanted’ behaviour is displayed, you can show your appreciation by stopping and acknowledging happiness or pride in the act your child displayed. For example, if he helps a child who has fallen in the park back to his mother, or shows empathy to a child by sharing a toy or sweet, you can definitely kneel to his eye level and lovingly say: “You made me so very proud today when you (and state the behaviour specifically). When we get home, we are going straight to your star chart and we are adding not one, but two stars… because you are a star today!” This enthusiasm and show of pride will be the catalyst to your child wanting to repeat the wanted behaviour.

Saying “Don’t be a bully” or “Stop bragging” is useless, unless the child firstly, understands the meaning of the word, secondly, that there is a consequence to such behaviour and thirdly, that there is in fact an option of a better choice of behaviour. This takes time and patience and must be modelled through example and clear communication from you – again and again. Repetition is the key. Clear, non-negotiable boundaries in an assertive tone wins the day.

So ultimately, what we want is for every child who is taught a life skill or a manner to understand the importance of demonstrating the wanted behaviour for themselves as they understand the reward!

Meaning of manners
Manners include moral virtues and character. The motivation for a parent or caregiver to give special attention and input into preparing their children with these skills is obvious.

Children with manners are likeable and are readily accepted into friendship circles. It is the deepest desire of every human to be liked. It is this that is called to the fore when we approach every topic we share with a child.

Being likeable is essential in today’s world – not only on the playground where inclusion boosts self-confidence, self-esteem and creates an ‘I can’ belief system, but also in future where interviews, human resources and employment agencies will focus on morals and value systems just as much as they are on the certification requirements.

It is an essential skill to hone. Manners are not ‘nice to have’ and do not consist only of ‘Please’ and ‘Thank you’. The skill of good manners and being socially adaptable and appropriate will affect your child’s life.

Future leaders and effective citizens will need degrees and the appropriate education, but will also have to display the following values and morals:



  • Empathy
  • Willingness to please
  • Consideration for the feelings of others
  • Honesty Integrity
  • Team player temperament
  • Respect A solid sense of justice and
  • Finally, conscience.

We will not create little angels overnight, but the privilege of conscience – which can only come when information has been shared and the consequences thereof fully explained and demonstrated – is our biggest weapon once it has been activated.

Five takeaways:

  • Saying “Don’t” or “Stop” is not effective. To effectively communicate with your child, you must consistently and clearly explain the acceptable or unacceptable behaviour – unemotionally, without shouting or nagging.
  • Never miss an opportunity to say that you are proud of something your child has displayed, being very specific about the acceptable behaviour. This will entice more of the same.
  • The effort and energy put into preparing children with good manners and social skills is crucial, especially in the three- to six-year-old stage. Strong guidance at this stage will provide a solid foundation and will affect their future.
  • Manners include virtues, morals and character education and result in a positive core value system – including respect, willingness to please, empathy, integrity, consideration of the feelings of others and a strong sense of justice.
  • When a parent uses effective communication and the child clearly understands the choice of behaviour in certain environments and situations, the development of conscience will greatly affect the choices a child makes.

How to encourage good manners and social skills
The first prize and ultimate success for a parent is when you have educated your child on typical, practical manners like ‘Please’ and ‘Thank you’ responses, table manners, being respectful to adults and so on, but it is also important to encourage your child to want to experience the joy of making good decisions regarding behaviour. I touched on communicating effectively with your child, explaining clearly what is acceptable or not.

There are many tools available for encouragement, but for me the more I research, the need for clear boundaries and rules is highlighted as tool number one in the toolbox. Boundaries are not punishment or designed to put limitations on your child. Boundaries are not a negative parenting tool – quite the opposite. Children thrive on rules and although they might talk or act against it, healthy boundaries in effect allow them to feel safe and secure. This applies not only to young children, but teenagers too!

They might kick and scream, but they will hold onto them for dear life when faced with a challenge or crisis. I remember reading an article where reference is made to the rollercoaster ride of raising a child – with the child in the seat and the bar which is lowered to keep you inside and safe representing the concept of boundaries and rules. Once the rollercoaster ride gets going, the children will in fact be grateful for the security offered and hold on, gratefully.

Clear boundaries are a tool which provides a non-negotiable arena and alleviates arguments. The clearer the boundary, the less space there is for debate. Start with a few rules; don’t get carried away to begin with. Two or three will be fine. As these are achieved, more can be added.

Examples are:

  • The bathroom must be left like you found it, with towels hung up.
  • The dogs should be fed just before supper time every night.
  • Teeth must be brushed before bed and after breakfast every day.
  • When I say “no” to something you ask for in front of another mommy, you may not ask me “why” in front of her.

The boundaries or rules can become more serious or challenging as you go and feel your control increasing.

Tools used for motivation
Now that we understand how to encourage our children to comply with our expectations and that we are duty-bound to set clear boundaries for our children, we can start using the fun stuff for motivation. I am a great fan of a star chart, marvellous marbles jar or coins or pebbles in a glass bottle which are quite visual. These all work as motivators, using the same theory. When I, as your parent, approve of what you do, I reward you with a pebble, or even a tick on a sheet of paper. This is the clearest you will be in getting your child to understand your expectations, and when they are met. If unwanted behaviour is shown, or a rule or boundary has been broken or not adhered to, the removal of a star, marble or coin is just as clear!

This is a very effective system for three- to six-year-olds in that you can communicate often and consistently throughout the day on general behaviour. Using the reward system should always err on the side of positivity and the allocation of the reward than the negative. When you as the parent react with happiness and pride in allocating the reward, this will spontaneously result in your child wanting to please you more. You can have a simple reward for reaching a certain number of marbles or stars like: “I will do one of your chores for a day!” Keep this system light and fun. It does not have to be a costly or even tangible reward: “Ten pebbles mean you don’t have to help with the dishes tonight”. It’s simply a communication tool, not an elaborate, instant gratification reward system.

The other motivator tool that works well is the goal chart. The goal chart differs from the star or reward system, as it has a specific outcome you would like your child to achieve. Simply place an expectation or challenge, like ‘Sleeping in my own bed’ and a reward like ‘The new Harry Potter book’, on a sheet of paper. Draw seven or ten (or whatever number makes sense to the challenge) circles from the expectation to the reward and colour them in as the goals are achieved.

Goal setting is a great way for your child to be consistently challenged to achieve, and of course to be disappointed every now and then when they don’t achieve an element of the goal. We do not allow our children to experience disappointment often enough and it is a very important skill to learn, gently, early in life. Great examples are feeding the dog without being reminded, cleaning the bathroom after you are finished using it or making your bed every morning.

Five takeaways:

  • Children thrive on rules. Create a set of boundaries and rules for your child. These are non-negotiable and should be simple to achieve when starting on your journey to controlling your child’s behaviour. These should be discussed and agreed to.
  • A great way to motivate your child and for you to communicate behaviour that you approve of – and don’t – is a reward system. You can create a simple recycled glass jar which is filled with pebbles, each pebble representing a positive behaviour.
  • If you need your child to achieve a goal, like sleeping in their own bed for instance, a goal chart is simple and effective. Simply place the required number of times this is expected in between the ‘Goal’ and the ‘Reward’.
  • Your response to any success that your child has is crucial. The more you state specifically what you loved and made you happy with clapping and huge smiles while allocating a star or pebble, the more your child is going to want to please you.
  • Allow your child to experience disappointment more often. Although this is not a pleasant task for parents who instinctively want to protect and provide to avoid this, learning to deal with disappointment and being able to process it is a very important skill for your child to learn.

Important manners

  • ‘Please’ and ‘Thank you’ whenever possible.
  • Kindness, e.g. taking turns (which is “nice”) and not grabbing (which is “not nice”) when playing with a friend.
  • Well-mannered communication in social settings, e.g. the difference between bragging and feeling proud.

There are other important manners, like table manners, but these are diverse, and the parent can implement any manner quite easily – using the technique I am going to share with you.

Ways to encourage manners
Let’s start with ‘Please’ and ‘Thank you’. How do we as parents encourage this? This one is called repetition. Whenever your child asks for something, simply say the words back, including ‘Please’: “Please, may I have a drink?” – which your child must then repeat. Once you have handed it over, say “Thank you” and expect your child to repeat it before enjoying the drink. This is an easy manner to instil, but you must be persistent and consistent. Never miss an opportunity to reinforce this, and never slack once you have begun. If you do it only sometimes, you will regret it. You will then create a platform for negotiation which is unnecessary. Keep at it!

I know as an adult, I really appreciate a child who remembers to say ‘Please’ and ‘Thank you’. The next one is kindness. I never thought of kindness as a manner, but as I learn more about raising a well-mannered child, I realise that kindness in itself encompasses many good manners.

Kindness is the foundation of communicating in a well-mannered way, endearing your child to both other children and adults. If you can demonstrate to your child the power of kindness and the reward for using it in a single instance, it will make sense to them to use it in all aspects of mannerly behaviour.

Encourage your child to share with others. If there is one toy that both children want to play with, state clearly: “You may play with it for five minutes and then it is your friend’s turn.” Should your child have sweets and a friend arrives, express that you expect your child to share what he or she has without question.

I use four characters: Princess Penny who is well-mannered and kind, Rodney Rude who is loud and a bully who hurts our bodies sometimes, Boastful Betty who is bossy and has to be in charge of every game we play (She is also a bully but a bully with her words; she hurts our hearts.) and Caring Kurt who is a very special friend, and he has lots and lots of friends because he knows how to be a good one. Referring to these characters while discussing your child’s behaviour really assists with the communication!

Like kindness, when we teach our children to communicate effectively and respect others, many manners follow as a matter of course. When a child knows how to share information and do so without showing off or boasting, his chances of being welcomed into friendship circles are greater. Although quite a difficult concept to explain to a four- or five-year-old, this is how to explain to your child the difference between bragging and being proud.

Using information and emotion simultaneously is the key – i.e. creating an understanding with an emotional response: Boastful Betty arrives at school early one morning. She walks in with a real smirk on her face. “Nah nah nah nah nah nah” she hums. “Ha ha ha, I got a new bike yesterday. Yours is old and ugly.” Just as she is settling into her seat, a beaming Princess Penny walks in. “Friends! Guess what?” she says, “I think I’m the luckiest girl in the whole world. I got a new bike yesterday. Please can you come and play on Friday so that you can have a ride?”

How did Boastful Betty make you feel when she told you she got a new bike? Um, sad, cross and maybe angry. How did Princess Penny make you feel? Right! Happy and loved. Were you happy for Boastful Betty? No! Were you happy for Princess Penny? Yes!

How can that be? They both got new bikes. It was the way they told you. Boastful Betty was bragging, and Princess Penny was feeling proud. We must remember when we have something exciting to share with our friends that we must do it like a Princess Penny and not a Boastful Betty.”

Getting familiar with the four friends will really assist parents once they have discussed the characteristics of each with their children. Parents can get much more information on my website on these delightful characters who teach manners all around South Africa.

Five takeaways:

  • Using the four characters – Rodney Rude (physical bully), Princess Penny (well-mannered and kind), Boastful Betty (a bully with her words) and Caring Kurt (a wonderful friend) – will greatly improve your communication with your child.
  • Never say: “You are a Rodney Rude” – rather: “You are behaving like Rodney Rude.” Your child is precious but may sometimes behave badly, so we need to always make sure they understand that their behaviour is unacceptable – not them.
  • Expect and insist on your child saying ‘Please’ and ‘Thank you’ from an early age. It is a habit and can be instilled very easily through repetition and, of course, example.
  • Teach your child to share from an early age, by encouraging the kindness of the act rather than the expectation: “Because I said so.” Instilling a sense of kindness has many benefits far beyond the typically expected manners – which will be met anyway.
  • Prompt your child to communicate and share news with friends in a proud way and never showing off or bragging, which will alienate friends.

Window of opportunity
Although manners can start being introduced at around 18 months with words like ‘ta’ (please and thank you) and understanding ‘ah ah’ (no), by three years they should understand the basics and comply with your expectations. Up to the age of seven is considered the window of opportunity. This is when connections are being formed in the brain and information is absorbed like a sponge by the child. If you take the time and make the effort to instil manners and values in your child before the age of seven, you, and your child, will reap the rewards.

Age-appropriate chores
To assist with the goal chart, here are a few age-appropriate chores that your children should be participating in:

A three-year-old should be:

  • Picking up and putting away toys. This is still a work in progress and guidance is necessary.
  • Dusting with a feather duster.
  • Putting dirty clothing in the laundry bin.
  • Making their own bed (not perfectly, of course).

A four-year-old should be:

  • Tidying up their room after a play date. Everything should be put back in its place and little guidance should be required.
  • Helping to set the table.
  • Wiping the bath and sinks when finished in the bathroom.
  • Matching socks as they are ready to be packed into the cupboard.
  • Folding dish towels in the kitchen.
  • Getting involved in the garden.
  • Watering plants.
  • Be responsible for feeding pets.

A five-year-old should be:

  • Tidying up their rooms without guidance.
  • Helping with meal preparation.
  • Setting and clearing of the table.
  • Sweeping floors.
  • Taking the garbage bags out.
  • Folding laundry.
  • Raking leaves.

Resistant children
If you have a child who is resistant, one of the best tools I stumbled upon as a mother of a child who was not ‘conformist’ from an early age and quite stubborn, was the distraction of option.

Should you want your child to put a jersey on, instead of saying: “Put your jersey on now” which will lead to conflict and negotiation tactics, take out two different coloured jerseys and say: “Which one would you like to wear – the red one or the blue one?” The instruction is not debatable, but distraction of choice gets the job done.

Embarking on a commitment to create a child who is well-mannered, your consistency is key. Start with small, achievable manners you would like – but once you start, do not negotiate. You must be consistent and stand your ground every single time. If your rule is that if you don’t eat your food, you may not have a sweet – do not give the sweet. Or else you are opening yourself up to a lifetime of negotiation and whining. Compliance to the manner should be non-negotiable and this should be clear from the start. It might take a tantrum or two, but it will be worth it in the end.

In my decade of dedication to the study of this subject, I have seen many children being transformed simply by the communication and expectation tools described above. All it takes is a little more dedicated time, words that can be understood in a loving tone, creating an understanding of what is expected and, above all, love. “When I feel loved, understood and safe in the guidance you provide, even when I act inappropriately, I will continue to try with all my heart to make you proud.” – Your child

For more information on instilling good manners within your child, visit

*IMPORTANT NOTICE. A-well balanced diet, both during pregnancy and after delivery, helps sustain an adequate supply of breastmilk. Exclusive breastfeeding is recommended during the first 6 months of life followed by the introduction of adequate nutritious complementary foods, along with sustained breastfeeding up to two years of age and beyond.

“NANKID® 4” is not a breast-milk substitute. As babies grow at different rates; seek advice with your health professionals on the appropriate time when your baby should start receiving this product.

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