I overheard a conversation between 4-year-olds at a school I worked at a couple of years ago that has stuck in my head ever since. A child was sitting in the nurses office and expressed to a classmate that he was afraid. His classmate reassured him everything will be fine, that it was OK to be scared, and offered to hold his hand. It made me realize how compassionate, caring, and respectful children can be at such a young age.
Manners are taught. When I was a child, manners were greatly emphasized and taught by my parents. Nowadays, as a teacher, I often have to constantly remind students to say such things as “thank you” and “excuse me.”
I always remember those students who were respectful long after they leave my classroom. Students who always asked to help carry books or supplies, who greeted their classmates in the morning, or who always said "excuse me," "thank you", "please," and "ma’am" and "sir."
I do not believe teachers are required to teach their students how to have manners. I consider it part of the parents’ job to teach manners and respect - especially to older students. Reminding pre-schoolers or kindergarteners to say “please” and “thank you” in the classroom is fair, but beyond that, children should understand the basics.
One of the basics a parent should teach their older children especially, is respect and not to laugh at someone else if he looks different. I remember a couple of years ago at a school I worked at, a child pointed to my hijab, while giggling, and said "Why do you wear that on your head, do you have cancer or do you think it's just cool?" I was startled, but calmly explained to her how we are all different and we should respect one another.
As a first time parent I realize the importance of instilling manners now more than ever before. I remember when I used to deal with a rude child, I would tell myself I would never let my child do that, and how dare his parent let him act like that. As a parent, I now understand that children have good and bad days. Sometimes they will express their anger and frustration through tantrums and yelling. And often times they will be finicky if they're hungry or sleepy or in a new environment.
However, it’s really never too early to start teaching children how to be respectful. We have been teaching our 1-year-old daughter how to say "please" and "thank you." Every time she hands us something, we tell her thank you. We also teach her respect by being respectful to her. Similarly, when we ask her to do something, we ask politely, even if we are being firm with her. For example, in toddler terms I would say, “Please stop throwing the broccoli on the floor because you are wasting it and making a mess. Please eat the broccoli.”
In today’s fast-paced world, mobile technology and social media are two factors slicing full conversations down to shorthand, with little room for niceties. I'm in awe when I go out to eat and see all members of a family using their smart phones. Or when a parent repetitively ignores their child's pleas, while updating her Facebook status about how much she loves her adorable child.
It’s not surprising when I meet children in the classroom who don’t have manners, because many adults don’t. I often have to stop myself and take a step back and remember my own manners.
For example, I have been making an effort to ask sales people and cashiers how they’re doing and greet them before I ask them a question. Even by sending an e-mail to a friend or colleague by starting off with a “how are you doing” is part of my Internet etiquette.
I recently moved to Pittsburgh from South Carolina and went to the Department of Motor Vehicles to re-apply for a new driver's license. While waiting with my daughter and husband, I saw a man standing, clearly angry that his number hadn't been called yet, cursing. Here I was, in a new city, trying to teach my daughter to pronounce the word "please" and this man was using explicit language in public (something 55 percent of adults do - according to a Schools.com report on bad manners from 2012).
When children see their parents using manners, whether with strangers, other children, or adults, they will pick up on it. My parents taught us to address people formally when speaking to adults.
Likewise, they always told us to stand up and give up our seat if we saw an older person walk in a room, or riding public transportation. Although these are quite formal in today's standards in America and times have changed, these practices helped me succeed and be aware of my every day manners.
Children don't need to take classes on etiquette or learn from a TV show the significance of manners. Rather, they need discipline to practice manners and reminders from their parents. Parents should be extra respectful to others while their children are with them so they can see and learn. And most importantly, parents should treat their own children with respect so they can reciprocate it back to them and to everyone they interact with, including teachers.