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The Gift of Grace and Manners

Teaching kids about grace and good manners is a lifelong survival skill that will benefit them in making friends, building relationships, resolving conflicts in a healthy manner and being compassionate.

TheAsianParent: Helping Parents in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Hong Kong
Charming Emma

“What a beautiful home you have,” said Emma, the first time she walked into my home. She played with my children for a while, and then said she had to go home; her mom was cooking dinner. At the door, she gave me a hug and said, “thank you for inviting me. I had a lovely time.” I watched her skip back to her house.

Ok, so she lives next door. But WOW! I thought to myself. That was the most amazing manners I’ve seen in a 5-year-old without any prompting from an adult!

Shortly after Emma’s visit, I invited her family over for a neighbourly meal. Being the hospitable host, I was doling out gummy candies to my children, Emma and her 4 year-old sister, Margot. Their mother gently reminded them that two gummy candies were the limit.

After the second gummy candy was consumed, my children began buzzing around me like flies. Well, it IS gummy candy and two are just tongue teasers, right? So, I caved in and gave my children a third. When I offered them to Emma and Margot, both sisters politely rejected my offer. “No, thank you,” they said.

WHO ARE THESE CHILDREN? They are gracious, well-groomed, respectful and articulate pre-schoolers. Are they for real?

Yes, they are. According to their mother, Yenny, the girls were taught at an early age to conduct themselves in a manner that has resulted in their present day delightful decorum. She cited their table manners as an example. The girls were trained from infancy that food was to be consumed at the dining table only, and if they needed to leave, they could do so only when given the permission to be excused from the table. The girls also had to adhere to table rules such as using appropriate utensils, chewing with their mouths closed, and not talking with food in their mouths.

Yenny attributes three key elements to the success of her “training” – consistency, reinforcement and persistence. She established a checklist that serves as a directive for the girls to behave. On the list are items like good table manners, being a good sister, listening and obeying (respect) and doing homework. “Politeness and posture are heavily regulated,” she said with a laugh.

The list is checked off daily and at the end of the week, the girls receive a small reward such as getting their nails painted or going to the bookstore (their favourite pastime).

Yenny observed that the list works as a parameter for the entire family, including her husband. “Even on the hit British series, Super Nanny , the first thing she does is to establish a set of rules [for the children and the parents],” she quips.

This is a good strategy especially for parents who work full-time and rely on helpers and nannies to mind their children. It also plays a dual purpose by serving as a platform for the parents to keep in touch with the on-goings at home while they were away.

Without the benefit of daily supervision that stay-at-home mothers have, some working parents opt to send their children to social etiquette courses. Kian Lim, a freelance counsellor with Fei Yue Family Services Center is one such parent who sent 5-year-old Joseph to an etiquette class at a community club, where he learnt basic courtesy rules and appropriate social behaviour.

Based on her experiences, she said that the instructions from “authoritative figures”, like the trainers, carry more weight than the parents. However, she adds that parent reinforcement is very important. She explained that parents have to be aware of their own behaviour. Otherwise, they might have a “do as I say and not as I do” scenario, which is not effective.

A classic example, she said, is the treatment of domestic helpers in the Singaporean households. Parents often expect their children to treat helpers politely but may not exemplify such behaviour themselves. Conversely, helpers too, need to be educated that the kind gestures from the children need to be reciprocated.

Stumbling Blocks

Sometimes parents worry that they might be raising a “people-pleaser” or a “yes” man. They want their children to be assertive, confident and be able to stand up for themselves. Hence, they would rather forego civility in favour of survival.

This was the case with Gwen, who related how her 3-year-old son was at the playground with his ball and some boys snatched it away. Having taught her son to be polite, she watched painfully as her son very politely and very unsuccessfully asked for the ball back.

Finally, she asserted her presence and “retrieved” the ball back from the boys. Since then, she’s been conflicted on the courtesy issue and declares that she’d rather “he is the bully than be bullied.”

While some parents prefer to address the emotional consequences, others, like Yenny, send her girls to Taekwondo class. Her girls understand that being polite does not mean being wimpy; that it is ok to defend themselves if the need arises. What’s more, Taekwondo supports her teaching as it is about having discipline and upholding a code of conduct such as respect for self and others.

Foundation of Social Etiquette

Teaching children about grace and good manners is a lifelong survival skill that will benefit them in making friends, building relationships, resolving conflicts in a healthy manner and being compassionate.

Alexis Wan from d’nic image consultancy ( conducts kid’s grooming and etiquette courses. Apart from the usual dos and donts, she emphasizes on respect and consideration by teaching the children interactions with others, the importance of punctuality and the ability to give and receive compliments.

“Such habits have to be incorporated from young,” she said. Children between the ages of 2 and 5 are most receptive to learning the rules of polite conduct because they turn to their parents for guidance. But as they get older, they turn to their peers. Thus, it is very important to impart suitable social customs unto your preschoolers now before they turn to other influences, thereby making the job much tougher.

A child, who knows what is expected of him or her and how to conduct himself or herself appropriately in different social settings, is empowered with confidence and a positive self-image.

To help your efforts in making social etiquette an essential part of parenting, the Asianparent team has put together the following checklist:

. Create a list for the family to follow

. Be consistent in schooling the desired etiquette

Persist in your “training” – be firm

. “Do as I do” – role model the desired behaviour

. Make learning new behaviour FUN

. Explain the effects of behaviour (both desired and undesired)

. Praise and reward desired behaviour

. Don’t embarrass your child. Always reprimand the negative behaviour, NOT the person

. Good Manners should be reciprocated

. Be conscious of the child’s development stage and manage your expectations accordingly

. Key areas to focus on – the magic words, table manners, telephone protocol, meeting people and receiving gifts

Children, with their innocence, are generally attractive. But to have a child who is confident and polite, with the intelligence to hold a conversation and the ability to convey kindness and conduct oneself appropriately, now that’s what I call a beautiful child.

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