Teaching Good Manners Matters

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My 9-year old son had a friend over the other day, and they were engrossed in a book of baseball cards when my husband entered the room. The friend immediately got up from the floor and extended his hand to say hello. “Hi Mr. Mohn, I haven’t seen you for a while. Thanks for having me over.” What a refreshing alternative to the greetings we usually receive.

When his friend left, we sat our son down to remind him about the importance of good manners. “But why can’t I just say hello when I go to a friend’s house?” he asked. “It feels weird to shake hands.”

Trying to describe the difference between a quick hello and a handshake proved more difficult than I thought. My son was adamant that he didn’t want to shake hands with his friends’ parents so we agreed to reinforce the following basic rules when he visits his friends’ homes:

  • Always have a smile and good eye contact when you greet an adult
  • Include a handshake greeting to adults whom you don’t regularly see
  • A clear and firm “Thank you for having me” when you arrive and when you leave
  • Clean up toys and games before you leave
  • Help out as needed while visiting (including being nice to younger siblings, hanging up your coat when you arrive, washing hands before a snack or meal, not running in the house, etc)
  • If you’re invited to have dinner, remember to use your napkin, chew with your mouth closed, take dishes to the sink when you’re done….(Basic stuff that we, sadly, are still working on at home).

Though my son knows these fundamental rules I still see him struggling with a few, especially providing eye contact and a crisp hello when he arrives and leaves a friend’s house. When I prodded him, he said it feels strange and he’s afraid it sounds silly.

But even my 9-year old saw the awe in my husband’s face when his friend offered his hand in greeting. And as it is with anything in life, positive reinforcement and praise can go a long way in teaching these basic but important skills. So if you find yourself knocking on my door for any reason, don’t be surprised if my 9-year old opens the door and offers his hand in greeting while I’m in the background saying “great job honey!”

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