Politeness is simply a way of communicating respectfully and as such is a useful communication skill to teach children, your own or those you teach. Of course, the best way to teach children anything is to model it yourself. In most cases, they’ll pick it up from you; they’ll do as you do, talk as you talk, say please and excuse me as you say please and excuse me. Part of this involves treating your child politely. If you’re trying to teach your child not to interrupt another’s conversation, don’t you interrupt the child either. If you want the child to say please and excuse me, then use these phrases yourself when talking to your child. But, there are a variety of things you can do to teach politeness skills in addition to setting the right example. Here are ten suggestions:
1. Teach your child the values of politeness. All children want to be liked and thought attractive; politeness will increase the likelihood that they will be liked and will be seen as attractive. Make that clear to children.
2. Teach your child the value of listening. Children often like to be the center of attention; teach them that listening is a great way of making someone else the center of attention. And, very likely, that person will return the favor and make you the center of attention.
3. Teach your child not to interrupt others. Of course if your child sees you interrupting others, this will be a tough lesson to teach and to learn. And explain the difference between back channeling cues (cues that say you’re listening—I understand, I don’t get it, For example?-- but that don’t take the speaker’s turn away from the one talking) from interruptions in which you take over the speaking turn.
4. Teach the value of politeness tags, phrases such as thank you, excuse me, you’re welcome, and please. Again, if you use them, your child is likely to use them as well.
5. Expose your child to a variety of social situations gradually. If you’re going to a restaurant with a small child, review the situation at home—let the child know what to expect and what is expected of him or her. It may even be useful to stage a mock restaurant at home. The diners next to you will greatly appreciate this.
6. Explain the distinction between polite and impolite behavior—perhaps as you’re both watching television. Point out behavior that’s impolite and that should be avoided as well as polite behavior that can be emulated.
7. Reward your child when he or she is polite, sometimes something as simple as: That was really nice of you to say please. At the same time, don’t hesitate to correct your child when he or she acts impolitely. Do it gently (you don’t want to have the kid detest any mention of politeness) and do it privately (never criticize the child in public). And be sure you explain not only what was impolite, but what the polite alternative would be: I notice that you called our neighbor Harry, maybe because you hear me calling him that. But children should call him Mr. Smith. When you get older and you’re an adult yourself, then you’d call him Harry. Realize that children just haven’t had the time to learn the rules of politeness (and they're surrounded by so many poor examples)so proceed in small steps and take pleasure in small improvements.
8. When appropriate, point out cultural differences in politeness. This is easily done while watching a movie or a television show, for example, See how the Japanese businessman is being polite by bowing.
9. Teach your child to answer the phone properly. It’s a simple skill that all adults know but children have to learn. Modeling appropriate phone behavior and spelling out the steps in polite phone behavior should teach even very young children to answer the phone without annoying the caller.
10. When dealing with boys it may be necessary to explain that politeness is not just for girls—a belief that many young boys have. Often they see politeness as a feminine way of behaving, a way of communicating that is more girl-like than boy-like. So, in your teaching include this and, for example, point out politeness examples from superheroes and, in general, those people the boys admire, are identifying with, or want to emulate.