Years ago I worked with a school parent to introduce two extracurricular courses for students that fell outside the school day. The first was a weekend babysitting course and the second – a class in etiquette – was a traditional course in good manners . The parent with whom I collaborated was a lady from Savannah, Georgia, who epitomized classic southern grace, dignity and charm. It was no surprise that her daughters had the same impeccable qualities.
The whole concept of “manners” or “etiquette” might seem a little outdated until recast as “social skills” – a very modern term. Mastering them is an important objective if we want children to learn and thrive in community. It is no surprise, then, that social skills (in all their forms) are essential for interpersonal and school success. Social skills and manners will affect how a child copes with peers, relates to adults and – eventually – functions in the workplace and world around them. They are essential learning objectives.
Why can they seem so rare at times? In the words of that tap-dancing phenom, Fred Astaire, “the hardest job kids face today is learning good manners without seeing any.” A culture that prioritizes cynicism, self, and a contempt for rules and courtesy makes engendering manners in the young a serious challenge.
While it’s tempting just to drill elementary school kids on basic rules, it’s more important to help children of any age understand that manners are about far more than obeying a set of requirements. Manners are about putting other people at ease, keeping commitments, demonstrating courtesy, and respecting that our old friend the “common good” exists for a reason. It’s important for parents and teachers to communicate that manners are not “something you turn on and off”.
Manners are a way of life to be modelled and reinforced by the adults in the lives of children. They are reflected in our choice of words and our cooperation with rules and they are made real by our accountability and our reliability. When adults get them wrong, is it any surprise that kids do, too?
Instilling good manners is not easy work. It takes commitment, perseverance, consistency, humility and honesty.
And it is very much an investment in the future, for when it is done well, good manners will open doors that even the best education cannot.
Debeo Possum Volo!