How do we instill good manners in children?
Grace is to the body what good manners are to the mind,” says Francois de la Rochefoucauld. Unfortunately, however, lack of manners in children is a growing problem in our society. The time has come for us, as educators and parents, to instil in children, the value of basic civility. Nobody in particular can be blamed for this apathy, but at the same time the fact, that the media, the parents and the school environment are responsible, cannot be ignored.
Parents are partly to blame if they ignore their children’s rude behaviour. Some parents demonstrate poor sportsmanship, display inconsiderate attitudes and blame educators for their child`s problems. Disrespectful conduct portrayed in the media is also at fault. In school, sometimes peer pressure makes good children succumb to bad behaviour, and at other times nonchalant teachers ignore behavioural problems. However, children need to know that “good manners will open doors that the best education cannot.”
Educators can play an important role in children’s development through a respectful attitude that requires students to be considerate of the rights and feelings of others to help create a cooperative learning environment. When people treat others with respect, they feel better about themselves and develop self-confidence. When educators model courtesy, children can learn to be considerate of others.
What else can educators do to instil manners in children?
1. The first thing a teacher needs to show is that she cares for each child in her class. Whenever possible, greet each child as they enter the classroom. This establishes an emotional bond which can help nurture a strong relationship which in turn leads to obedience and acceptable behaviour.
2. Take pleasure in being their teacher, so that the children feel valued.
3. Have children name examples of good manners and list them on the board. Then have them identify examples of rude behaviour. Divide the children into groups to make posters illustrating desirable and undesirable behaviours. These can be hung on the wall to remind children of appropriate conduct.
4. Discuss socially acceptable behaviours through stories, skits or interesting anecdotes.
5. Teach, model, and post a respectful vocabulary including terms such as “Please,” “Thank You,” “You’re welcome,” “I`m sorry,” “Excuse me,” “I like the way you …” “May I?” Have students add to the list.
6. Speak to them politely and call attention to the harm that thoughtless, unkind words and actions can cause.
7. Make them aware that all forms of bullying including gossip, exclusion, name-calling and aggression are unacceptable.
8. Stress the importance of treating others the way you would like to be treated. Suggest books for them to read which will influence them to adopt socially acceptable conduct.
9. Have the children practice a manner each week; for example, tell them to make posters and talk about values like empathy, kindness, politeness, etc.
10. Acknowledge students when you see them acting in a kind or helpful manner by describing in positive terms the specific behaviour you observed. Reward good behaviour.
11. Have a bulletin board that promotes manners. When you observe a child being especially courteous, write down the action on a colourful card with the student`s name at the top and post it. Have students observe good manners in others, write down what they saw on a card, and add it to the board.
12. Take pictures of children using good manners, have students add text, and make a PowerPoint presentation for children in lower classes or for parents to view.
13. Have the children write, illustrate, and publish a book on manners. Students can work in groups to brainstorm situations. They could create questions for each page with several answer choices.
14. Have the children create a song, poem or play about manners.
15. Help establish a school-wide “Good Manners Programme” to include all subject areas. A music teacher could teach songs about manners. An art teacher could have the children make posters depicting manners. A physical education teacher could devise games where children introduce themselves to each other, and a classroom teacher could have the students write short stories.
16. A code of conduct chart could be placed next to the blackboard to remind children to practice manners. Depending on the age of the children, decide on the rules together with your students. Discuss what needs to happen in the classroom for everyone to be able to learn. Write the students’ suggestions on a large chart and hang it in the room. The students could also help you define consequences for inappropriate behaviours.
17. During work time, establish a classroom nonverbal signal to warn an individual student of inappropriate behaviour. Stare at the child, and if necessary call out his or her name and then use your signal. For example, hold your hand up in the stop position, lower your hand, or put your thumb down. Or, touch a student gently on the shoulder as a reminder of appropriate behaviour. If the child does not stop, administer a consequence.
18. Students interrupting a teacher are a problem in many classrooms. Tell the children that you want them to get the most out of school so you will not allow them to be rude and to interrupt you when you are speaking. Say, “I am here to help you learn; therefore, you need to listen and follow instructions. I am worried that you will be missing important information if you talk while I am giving instructions. When I am speaking, it is teacher time.”
19. Let them know that they will have “student time” to talk to each other when they are working in pairs or groups or at other designated times.
20. Tell them exactly what you expect of them and follow it up with consequences. If children are talking when they are supposed to be silent, stop talking, stare, and do not start again until the room is quiet. If you start to talk, and someone interrupts, then stop again. You may want to say something like, “I am waiting,” or move the disruptive child to another seat. An additional idea is to make a mark on the board to indicate that the class will lose one minute of recess. When it is quiet, begin again. Be consistent in whatever classroom management plan you use.
21. Have counselling sessions with parents and ask them to help you to correct the child’s bad manners.
Helping children learn basic manners early will be an asset for them as they mature. The effort works best if appropriate behaviour is emphasised throughout the school in conjunction with character education lessons and follow up at home. Of course the most important thing to bear in mind is that the teacher and parent need to practice what they preach!
The author is Principal, Pallavi Model School, Hyderabad. She can be reached at email@example.com.