Manners are everything.

In our modern day and age, casualness has become king. We no longer incorporate many of the old principles that were once staples of societal etiquette, such as calling individuals by Mr. or Mrs., only wearing hats outdoors, not talking about politics and religion at the dinner table, and more. According to etiquette expert Thomas P. Farley, the founder of Mister Manners, this generation's increasingly casual approach to etiquette is actually why doubling down on manners is so important, especially for our children. "Conveying to our children the importance of good etiquette is not only a nice thing to do; it's essential," he says.

woman holding baby and helping toddler cut food
Credit: Hoxton / Sam Edwards / Getty Images

Maryanne Parker, etiquette expert and founder of Manor of Manners, agrees, and she even recommends enforcing these etiquette principles at a young age. "We cannot assume children will just pick up good manners—they have to be reinforced all the time, on a daily basis," she says. "Starting early will be always very beneficial, because well-mannered kids will become well-mannered adults who will be more easily accepted into society." Here, several ways you can start teaching important etiquette principles to your children—starting today.

Have dinner together.

Sitting down together for a family meal not only helps hone in on table etiquette, but it also sets up the foundation of a communicative family life. "Although this will become increasingly challenging as the child gets involved in after-school sports or other activities, breaking bread together is a proven way of spurring conversation, building relationships, and establishing a standard of thoughtful interaction," says Jodi R.R. Smith, owner of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting in Marblehead, Massachusetts.

Encourage them to contribute to the household.

From a young age, teach your child to care for the home in which he or she lives. It's a humbling experience, notes Smith. "They are less likely to feel entitled and do not always expect to be waited on hand and foot," she says. "We're talking basic tasks such as making one's bed, putting away one's clothes, and clearing one's place at the breakfast table."

Correct your kids wherever you are.

Lisa Grotts, a San Francisco-based etiquette expert, urges parents to correct their children whether they're in the home on a regular day or on vacation. "They may not even realize what they're doing is wrong. For example, interrupting you while on the phone or in public," she says. "Correct this behavior by letting them know it's not polite to speak when another is speaking."

Give them the chance to dress up.

Even if the occasion doesn't call for it, let your child choose dressed-up clothing. "If every day is about jeans and t-shirts, the specialness of special occasions can easily be lost," explains Smith. "Whether it's for religious services, a birthday party, a family wedding, or a trip to a fancy restaurant, providing your children with occasions to wear a special outfit is an essential part of helping cultivate an awareness of different demeanor for different situations."

Teach them to use those magic words.

"Please" and "thank you" are called magic words for a reason. "They open doors and make things happen that might not otherwise," notes Smith. "By the time the child can talk and ask for things, words like 'please,' 'thank you,' and 'you're welcome' will help lay the foundations for what is to come."

Comments (2)

Martha Stewart Member
January 20, 2020
I love this idea, but with gender neutrality, I have to live with the fear of calling them by the wrong gender when it comes to "sir" or "maam".
Martha Stewart Member
January 20, 2020
I raised my older children this way, teaching them manners and etiquette, how to be polite yet assertive and I'll never regret doing it! It has taken them farther in life than I thought it would. I thought I was just doing the right thing but it really has benefited them greatly. A nice byproduct of that is a lot of people (weather it be at school, church, in public, around the neighborhood or family members) have told me I have such good kids! I get told "oh we just love your kids" etc etc. Now that is a good thing! And a job well done on all of our parts! My husband and I are now bringing up our youngest daughter the same way and I can't wait yo see where it takes her in life!