Beyond the Table: Instilling Good Manners in Your Children

Getting kids to use their forks and not their fingers and say, “may I be excused?” is a good start at raising polite kids. But acceptable behavior goes beyond the table. Instilling good manners in your children takes patience, persistence, and a commitment to setting a good example. Here are some ways to teach your children to treat others with respect and grace. 

Photo by Nicole Michalou on

Explain Why

From a preschool perspective, it’s not always obvious why good manners are important. With each rule of good behavior, you teach, offer a simple explanation of why it’s important. 

Find the Magic Word

Even if they see their parents modeling good manners regularly, kids will still need some time to adopt the habit. Choose a signal to let your child know when they’ve missed a chance to use good manners. If a child forgets to say “please” or “thank you,” say “oops!” or “did you forget something?” 

Choose Your Moment

A tween can understand subtle expressions of good manners, like not commenting on someone’s appearance. But a toddler needs some additional guidance. Work your way up from “please,” “thank you,” and “I’m sorry” to “can I take that for you?” or “I had a wonderful time!”

Show and Tell

Your kids are watching all the time. When stress or frustration gets the better of you, explain it to your kids, and apologize. Being a good role model doesn’t mean being perfect: it’s about showing how to be considerate and responsible for your actions.

Offer Alternatives

Shoving a reluctant toddler toward a relative for a hug or demanding they “look them in the eye!” will backfire. Give a hesitant child another option. A warm greeting could be drawing a picture for a guest or sharing a toy with a friend.

Neurodiverse children and adults (e.g., people on the autism spectrum) may have difficulty with eye contact or other social niceties. Teach your children to be aware of and understand people who are different. It’s also possible to teach autistic kids social skills, including how to advocate for themselves with people who don’t recognize their challenges. 

Top 10 List

There are some basics of good manners that every child can learn. When you’ve achieved civilized behavior at family dinners, and it’s time to go beyond the table, instilling good manners in your kids should include: 

  • Saying “please”
  • Responding with “thank you” (including writing thank-you notes)
  • Knowing when to say “excuse me”
  • Taking the responsibility to say “I’m sorry”
  • Knocking on a closed door before entering a room
  • Waiting for your turn (no cuts!)
  • Using names with greetings (“Hello, Susie!” or “How are you today, “Jim?”)
  • Offering to help
  • Avoiding making a mess and cleaning up after yourself
  • Holding doors, or at least not letting them close on the person behind you

Instilling good manners in your children is always a work in progress. But by the time your kids reach adulthood, you’ll see the fruits of your labor in their polite behavior and consideration for others. 

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