Living with Children: The importance of ‘manners’


One of the characteristics of a truly civilized society is the ubiquitous use of proper social courtesies. Raising a child is all about civilizing the savage within; therefore, “manners,” as they are known, should be taught to a child early and diligently.

A parent recently wrote me, asking, “What’s the most important social courtesy to teach a child?”

My answer to that great question: To not interrupt adult conversations.

In learning not to interrupt, a child learns patience, which is to say, impulse control. It also strengthens the social boundary that should exist between the child and adults; hence, the child’s respect for adults. In other words, being taught not to interrupt adult conversations, including phone conversations, benefits the child as much or more than it benefits adults.

Oh, and by the way, children should not be taught that “excuse me” is an appropriate means of barging into an adult conversation. To be specific, the following sort of exchange is counterproductive, not to mention rather absurd:

Parent (who, to that point, has been talking with another adult): “Billy, you’re interrupting. What have I taught you to say?”

Child: “Um, uh, excuse me.”

Parent: “Good for you! Okay, what is it?”

After I had talked on the importance of manners to a small group in California, a gentleman from South Africa told me that in his culture, one of the first things a child is taught is how to be recognized when he wants to say something.

The child is told that he is to stand a respectful distance from adults who are engaged in conversation — say, eight feet — and wait to be recognized. When the adults reach a point where a pause in their conversation feels natural, one (the child’s parent, usually) will turn to the child and say, “Yes?” The child then speaks.

Oh, how civilized! But wait! That is exactly what I was taught as a child! And, I dare say, so were most of my peers.

This is not rocket science. Teach your child to stand a respectful distance from adults who are talking and wait, silently and in a state of stillness, until he is acknowledged, and gradually increase his wait until he’s learned to be silent and still for at least a couple of minutes.

“And what should I do when my child interrupts, even after I’ve taught him the art of waiting?”

Teach again, and make sure he learns that misbehavior has consequences. Put him to bed early that evening. Keep him indoors for the rest of the day. It really doesn’t matter, but whatever you do, do something he’ll remember! And be sure to let him know how pleased you are when he does the right thing.

[Family psychologist John Rosemond:, Copyright 2022, John K. Rosemond]