“Unless a man is polite towards others, he is at a disadvantage in the world” (H. Clay Trumbull). It’s probably safe to say that we would all love to have polite children. But politeness is not merely the outward behavior of getting our children to say things like “please and thank you” (i.e. manners), although proper politeness will show itself outwardly. Politeness is the state of our children’s hearts. If we can reach their hearts in this matter, we will have truly taught our children to be polite, not just put on a show for others. The result? A happy well-balanced child who finds satisfaction in his life because he lives his life for the betterment of others, and not for himself. And bonus? They are a delight to be around.
Politeness is not a natural quality. We like to think of ourselves first. Just take a look at my toddler and you’ll see! Politeness is something that needs careful and thoughtful training.
Often times, it seems as though we try and teach our children to not think of themselves, by saying, “Don't be selfish,” or “don’t take for yourself first.” Real politeness happens when our children lose sight of themselves, or as the Bible describes it, "prefer one another over yourself" or "think on the interests of others." The best way to help our children understand this is not to tell them to forget themselves, but instead tell them to think of others. “The more a person tries to forget himself, the surer he will be to think of himself. But when a child thinks of others, his thoughts go away from himself, and self-forgetfulness is a result, rather than a cause of his action.” (H. Clay Trumbull).
So what does this look like in every day life? Train your child to…
· Give a verbal expression for all acts of kindness or attention given to them, such as please and thank you.
· Properly greet others with a hello and goodbye and to properly answer questions asked them, such as “how are you?” Don’t allow the excuse of a “shy” child to cause your child to turn his head or melt into mom or dad’s shoulder without an answer. Help the shy child by encouraging them to think of the other person, taking the focus off of them, and onto the other person.
· Extend a hand in response to someone greeting them in this way.
· Make it his job to find what his playmate wants to play while at your child’s home. When going to another child’s home, train your child to be a sharer and to enjoy whatever their playmate wants to do. When he comes home, ask him about it and what things he found interesting. Respond with encouragement to continue, or counsel on how to display better politeness.
· Ask questions about other people. This one is difficult for children and is best taught through role playing with your child. Practice meeting a new friend. You play the friend and have your child ask questions about you. Practice asking what they want to play, or have them practice responding when someone else wants to play something. This can practiced in terms of adults as well. Parent can say, “Jonny, can you think of two questions you can ask Mrs. Smith when she comes over for lunch?”
Role play will take a significant part of training in politeness in all the above areas. You can work on these several times a week and use language that helps your children think of others.
When your child misses out on an opportunity to be polite or think of others, you can counsel them by talking about how they forgot to think of the other person and missed out on feeling happy about doing something nice. Our children will find great satisfaction in meeting the needs of others as they find themselves responsible for the well-being and happiness of someone else.