“Politeness [is] a sign of dignity, not subservience.” - Theodore Roosevelt
Manners – it may seem like a dying art but I credit a large percentage of my sons’ appeal to their good manners. Having a “traditional values” mom made teaching them very easy.
Highbridge Gardens is a collection of 7 buildings all with 13 floors in the Bronx. We lived on the 13th floor. Superstition usually prompted builders to “skip the 13th floor thinking no one would want to live there. Oddly enough, I thrive on 13. I lived most of my life on the 13th floor and I currently live in the 13th lot in my subdivision. When we had the rare opportunity to play outside, we knew when the carillon started chiming (at 6 pm) that we needed to head upstairs. If for some reason we needed to come up earlier, my mom would shake a dish towel out of the window. You knew to keep one eye in the direction of our kitchen window. Your cue was never audible, just visible. Yelling 13th floors down would be poor manners.
The easiest way to teach your children good manners is to respond in a way that they see manners in action. Be well mannered to your children and it is never too early to start. They will mimic the behavior you pattern. When my guys were little, we used to refer to please and thank you as the magic words. No transactions, no matter how small, were made without them. If one of my guys were headed to the kitchen and I would like them to bring me something, I’d gently ask them, “Would you bring me a glass of water, please?” I tried to say it in a way that made it tough to say no. This is also true in instances where they should be thanked. Once I got the glass of water, thank you. Sometimes I will serve my guys. If dinner is ready and we are in the midst of watching something interesting, I may fix their plate and bring it to them or ask them if they need something from the kitchen while I am in there. Afterwards, they may take my plate into the kitchen. It is an easy mutual give and take.
I also referred to them as sir when they were little if I needed to really get their attention. This may sound strange, but it was effective. Once they heard me call them sir, they knew they had just a few minutes before I was going to blow, so they tried their best to comply. They were also taught not to address anyone old enough to be their parent by just their first name. Adults could be referred to as Mr. or Ms. first or last name. The combination with the correct tone has made an impression on many of the people they have interacted with.
This is one of the most consistent comments I hear about my three…your sons are so respectful and well mannered; you just don’t see that anymore. You can teach them the best that you know…you just can’t be sure they will use it every time. I am convinced that if they learn this lesson well, it will serve them for the rest of their life. As a matter of fact, we had to unlearn this as they turned into working adults because sometimes people feel old when you call them Mr. or Ms. This is counterproductive to my point, but I think we have it properly adjusted. Manners will always serve your children well. Teach them. You will be glad you did.