Bad Manners at Home

Sometimes children have trouble following basic etiquette or displaying good manners. During meals, for instance, your child may eat with his hands or burp out loud (without so much as a “please excuse me!”). When playing with a friend or sibling, he may grab a toy without asking or refuse to share. When a parent speaks he may interrupt. He may pass wind when at home, without caring about whether anyone is present. However, no matter what specific issue your child has with manners, there is a way to help remediate it. Even though these behaviors may occur in the privacy of your home where no one might be upset by them, addressing them is still important. It’s a parent’s job to help socialize a child, giving the youngster the essential skills that will help him in life. Possessing good manners is one life skill that will always serve your child well.

If your child displays bad manners consistently consider the following tips

Be a Role Model and Educator
This is obvious, but important enough to state anyways. We aren’t always aware of ourselves, so we may not realize that we eat with our mouth open or talk with our mouth full – especially if no one ever complains to us. It’s easier to see such behaviors in our kids. When you correct your child you may occasionally hear something like, “You do the same thing!” If this happens, thank the youngster for pointing it out and then say something like, “I guess we’ll both have to work on this habit.” This goes for any form of bad manners: putting your shoes on the sofa, grabbing things out of people’s hands, eating before the others have arrived at the table, taking portions of food without offering to others and so on and so forth. It can be a fun project to get a book on etiquette (there are many excellent ones available) and read tiny sections of it to the family at dinner time (it might take a year or longer to finish!). It can be used to stimulate discussion as well as to learn about social standards of behavior.

Use the CLeaR Method and Other Positive Strategies
The CLeaR (comment, label, reward) Method can be used when your child has a real problem with manners. In the CLeaR method, a parent reinforces the child’s behavior through the use of positive comments, positive labels and, for a very short period, a simple reward. This method feels better and actually works better than the nagging method – the technique most parents use to correct their child’s poor manners. It is also more pleasant than using punishment to correct the negative behavior. Suppose you were trying to teach your youngster to eat with cutlery instead of his hands. The CLeaR Method might look something like this: If the child begins to eat inappropriate food with his hands, hand him a fork and then make a comment (“You’re using a fork!”) Then offer a label. (“You have good manners!”) Then offer a small reward. (“I think that deserves a special treat for dessert for everyone!”) When using the CLeaR Method to teach a behavior, refrain from using discipline for that behavior at the same time. (Learn more about how to use the CLeaR Method to replace punishment, nagging and ineffective interventions, in Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe.) In fact, it is best to refrain from correcting the child when he is doing the wrong thing (i.e. talking with his mouth full) altogether. Correction is a form of attention that can accidentally reinforce the undesirable behavior. For instance, every time a child uses his talks with his mouth full, the parent tells him “finish chewing before you speak.” This comment – even though it is a correction – is a form of attention for the child and, as such, can have the consequence of INCREASING the inappropriate behavior! Instead, either use the CLeaR Method for that child or give specific praise to another child at the table who happens to be eating with his mouth closed (“I like the way you are eating quietly with your mouth closed”). (By the way, you can “set the child up” for the CLeaR Method by quickly and quietly asking him to talk only after he’s finished chewing and then giving loud and clear CLeaR Method attention to him when he does that.)

Use Consequences
Children can misbehave for many reasons. Your child may have bad manners, not because he doesn’t know what to do, but because he is choosing not to do it. Always check that your communication with a youngster is within the ideal 80-20 Ratio – that is, 80% of what you are communicating, feels good to the youngster (90% for teenagers – see Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice for details on the 80-20 Rule). A good ratio reduces defiance and behavior problems in kids and teens. In addition, positive, good feeling, techniques should always be tried first when you want to educate a child. However, while such techniques will do an excellent job of education in most cases, they don’t ALWAYS provide a timely cure. If a child repeatedly displays a particular bad manner despite your positive efforts at eradicating it, it is time to try more traditional forms of “bad feeling” discipline such as the 2X-Rule (see Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice for details). Suppose, for instance, that your child enjoys burping at the table. You will inform the child that burping is not acceptable (except on rare accidental occasions, during which you say, ‘excuse me.’). After your information is delivered, the child will likely burp again at some point. Now you go to Step 2, telling him “from now on, when you burp at the table, you will have to leave for 5 minutes and then you can come back and try to behave at the table appropriately.” The third time the burp occurs and every time thereafter, a negative consequence will be applied. Use the same consequence for 3 or 4 occasions in order to see if it is being effective in reducing the rude behavior. If it isn’t, just announce that there will be a different consequence from now on. Use the new consequence for 3 or 4 times to see if the burping is happening less often. Continue to switch consequences only if you fail to see any improvement.

Use Bibliotherapy
Take some books or videos out of the library on the subject of good manners and read and discuss them with your kids. There are materials suitable for every age group, from the very young right up till adult! Explain the role of good manners. There are special films showing children of dignitaries how to behave appropriately. These can be entertaining as well as educational. As suggested above, you can read “Miss Manners” type books at the table and discuss with the family.

Consider Professional Help
If the bad manners are part of a larger picture of negativity or defiance, and your interventions have not helped sufficiently, consider seeking out the help or assessment of a mental health practitioner. Parents can also seek additional tips on how to deal with bad manners from a parenting professional.

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