From the moment the young child enters the Montessori classroom, we begin lessons on grace and courtesy. We greet each child with a handshake and a salutation, “Good morning. How are you today, David?” We expect the child to acknowledge the greeting and in due course to respond appropriately with his own greeting. We don’t do this to be “cute” or to treat the child as if he were a young adult. It is done, not only as a pleasantry expected in a civilized culture but also to establish mutual respect between the child and adult. The child learns that one is expected to conduct oneself in a certain way in our society. Lessons are age and developmentally appropriate, but more importantly, they become the foundation on which we build our relationships with others and ultimately how others perceive us.
I still have clear memories of my days at school when elocution and deportment lessons were part of our daily curriculum. At the time, I thought they were ridiculously old fashioned. Many decades later, I appreciate the skills I learned, and I acknowledge that they have stood me in good stead throughout my life in many situations, both personally and professionally.
What has happened that we no longer think that grace and courtesy are important skills to teach young children? Do we believe that these skills have no value, are outdated or are irrelevant in a culture where texting is replacing face-to-face communication? Is a text message, “R U free tonight?” really an invitation to dinner? Maybe so, but does it have the same impact as a phone call or a personal invitation?
The answer is that good manners will never be obsolete. Globalization and increasing travel at home and abroad make good manners all the more important. We can’t wait until children are young adults and then give them a crash course in social graces as they head out the door for college, a trip to a foreign country or their first real interview. I often wonder why such skills are not taught in our schools; after all, isn’t education supposed to be preparation for life? If the skills are not taught in school, why then are they not taught at home? Ideally it would be a dual responsibility, but it is still primarily that of the parents.
I cannot tell you how often I have interviewed young, and not so young people, who show up inappropriately attired and yes, chewing gum! No matter how qualified a person is, I will not hire someone who is not acquainted with the most basic skills of grace and decorum—what kind of role model would that person be? I once had a woman clean out her purse while I was conducting her interview. (I must admit I was somewhat intrigued and amused.)
We do our children a great disservice when we don’t adequately prepare them for the challenges and expectations of daily life. Manners are so much more than “please” and “thank you.” Manners are a reflection of who we are and how we treat others, not only publicly but also privately, both within and outside our homes. Teach your children the importance of good social skills and graces. They will handle themselves well and with confidence in society and will be genuinely more considerate and attuned to others as well.
If space and time allowed I could fill Oyster Pointer with the entire how-to on teaching manners. One book I recommend is: 365 Manners Kids Should Know by Sheryl Eberly. There is a revised edition that addresses the use of technology and other current issues. But most of us know what “good manners” mean and don’t necessarily need a book to guide us. So, the next time an opportunity presents itself to teach or remind your children of a skill, jump right in and lead the way as a role model. I personally will thank you!