Bad Manners in Public

It’s bad enough when kids display bad manners at home but all the more upsetting when they behave that way in public! Most parents are mortified when other people can see how their kids eat with their mouth open, speak disrespectfully to grownups or sneeze without the benefit of a tissue.

But don’t worry: good manners can be learned (and taught!). If your child displays bad manners in public, consider the following tips:

Consider the Child’s Age
Bad manners are more common in certain age groups. For instance, pre-schoolers are quite impulsive and have trouble waiting. Consequently, this age group is prone to interrupting adults in order to get what they want or need at the moment. Since the behavior is age-appropriate, parents need to be gentle when offering education. “I know it’s hard to wait sometimes. When you see Mommy or Daddy speaking, just sit nearby and tap your fingers on your knees. Soon, Mommy or Daddy will stop talking and see you there and will be happy to help you with whateer you need.” If the child continues to interrupt despite the gentle instructions, parents might consider that the child is not yet ABLE to wait patiently. Older kids, however, have developed more impulse control and can be expected to be more restrained. Also, young children are used to shouting in the school playground and may not realize that shouting in a shopping mall or place of prayer is not equally acceptable. Some kids may slurp up their drinks in a noisy manner without realizing that there is another way. In general, young children must be taught how to display good manners – they’re not born knowing the rules of civilization. Patient guidance from parents is important. Using encouragement and positive reinforcement to encourage good manners is always the first route. Only if these fail to attain the desirable results would one move on to discipline.

Model Good Manners
The best way to teach good manners is for you to display them on a constant basis. If saying “good morning” or “good afternoon” is part of the family culture, then expect that your child will be greeting people courteously outside the home too. If some formality is present when you dine at home, then kids will practice table manners in public settings too. You can demonstrate how one answers a telephone politely, how one introduces oneself or other people, how one eats and so forth. You will still need to TEACH in addition to modelling. However, it will be very difficult to teach if you fail to provide the model of the behavior you are looking for!

Consider That Your Child is Misbehaving for Attention
Does your child have impeccable manners at home, but horrible manners when there’s an audience? If this is the case, consider the possibility that your child’s poor etiquette is his way of getting negative attention. When this happens, just ignore the bad manners; don’t reprimand or laugh. Also, be sure to give your child more positive attention both when he is behaivng appropriately and when he is just doing nothing wrong. When a child gets enough positive attention, he usually doesn’t try to get negative attention. However, if he feels that the only way he can get a parent to talk to him is to misbehave, then that is exactly what he’ll do.

Don’t Reprimand in Public
When a child shows bad manners in public, it’s tempting to reprimand — after all, people are watching! But reprimanding a child in public may backfire on you; your kids might feel embarrassed at being lectured or punished with an audience. Worse, you may be reprimanding when your child didn’t deliberately misbehave, but acted based on what they thought was right in that situation.  Indeed, it is ironic how ill-mannered a parent can appear when reprimanding a child publicly – some parents raise their voice, use unpleasant language or act gruffly. Such behavior can never instill good manners in a child! Instead of giving in to other people’s disapproving stares, wait until you both get home and gently teach alternative, more appropriate behaviors.

Reward the Exercise of Good Manners
You’d be surprised at how well a child will adapt a practice or behavior when he or she knows it pleases you! Praise your child when they practice courtesy and good manners, and provide a smile when they behave well. And if they did something really considerable, such as made a grandparent or a visitor feel good, then you can go for big rewards, like taking a visit to the ice cream parlor or buying a small gift.

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