Perhaps you've sat near an overzealous cell phone user recently, or have had a door swing unapologetically in your face. Maybe you've been forced to listen to foul language in public or have waited at a counter while employees carry on exhaustive personal conversations. If so, you have witnessed what many people describe as a disturbing increase in rudeness in American society.
In a recent Associated Press-Ipsos poll, 69 percent of those surveyed felt that Americans are ruder now than they were 20 or 30 years ago. And 93 percent of respondents point the finger at parents who don't teach their children manners. Heidi Baier, Everett mother of 17-month-old Sam, is among those concerned about manners. "Parents are too busy to sit down and take the time to instill proper etiquette," she says. "Our children don't know how to behave in social situations and are becoming more and more disrespectful."
Raising polite kids in a modern world
Trying to raise polite children in an increasingly rude society may seem like a daunting task, but it boils down to a very simple concept: leading by example. "If parents are good-manner models, and children are learning language, manners such as please, thank you and excuse me can be taught," says local parenting educator Jan Faull. "Specific table manners such as buttering your bread or cutting your meat just right are a little complex for a child under 3."
Denise Weinstein, a Bellevue mother who teaches both preschool and infant classes, used sign language to introduce manners to her two children, now ages 5 and 8. "They were able to sign 'please' and 'thank you' at 9 months of age," Weinstein says. "By the time they could actually say the words, they already understood the concept of manners." For Weinstein, using sign language to teach good manners was a success. "People would often be shocked at how polite my kids were at such a young age, and yet it was such a simple thing to teach them."
Teaching children etiquette
"Do as I say, not as I do" has always been a risky parenting strategy, and this is particularly true when teaching children etiquette. Modeling good manners is essential in raising polite children. Young children are learning from their parents' interactions with their spouse and other family members, as well as from their exchanges with the outside world, experts agree. So parents should make sure not to check their manners at the door. "Parents need to be careful about their manners," Faull cautions. "Children are great mimics and if you begin to use good manners yourselves, children are just going to follow suit."
Considering the recent survey, many of today's parents may have manners that are not up to par. To remedy this, Faull recommends parents pick up a book on good manners, not only to improve their own behavior but also to be more deliberate about what they want to pass on to their children. When reading, she says parents should ask themselves, "How do I want my children to behave, and how can I go about this process in a low-key but intentional way?"
Peggy Post and Cindy Post Sinning offer manners advice specifically geared toward parents in their book, The Gift of Good Manners. The authors detail what manners parents can teach their children at each developmental stage and suggest ways to deal with challenges that might arise.
In her recent book Talk to the Hand, author Lynne Truss discusses the decline of manners in society. "Consideration for others being the foundation of manners, children ought to be taught to use courtesy words because they thereby learn an important social habit: to remember there are other people in the world," Truss writes.
Laura Mackenzie, a freelance writer, lives in Redmond with her husband and two children, ages 5 and 16 months.
3 great books for toddlers on manners: