Teaching Etiquette Helps Children Learn to Love their Neighbor Teaching Etiquette Helps Children Learn to Love their Neighbor

Fitting to her dramatic personality, my 10-year-old daughter expressed her dismay loudly when I told her that I signed her up for etiquette camp. She didn’t want to spend any part of her summer learning about table manners, and she let me know it repeatedly right up to the first day.

Sending her four mornings out of one week of her vacation wasn’t a punishment. She still had her afternoons free to swim at the pool. I assured she would have fun and learn a lot of useful practices that would benefit her as a girl who enjoys spending time with her friends and performing on stage. In short, she’s a true people person.

I often say that as a mom I love learning right along with my daughters. I expect both of my daughters to be polite to others at home and wherever they go, but I gained a fresh perspective on using good manners. Etiquette goes way beyond table manners and it’s more about making people feel comfortable, valued and respected. Etiquette shows people you are concerned and care about their feelings.

What mom wouldn’t want her children to learn to value and respect others, helping others to feel at ease? That’s showing love for God and others, and it’s the foundation of Christianity.

One of the scribes came to Jesus and asked him, “Which is the first of all of the commandments?” Jesus replied, “The first is this: Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:28-31)
Manners help children develop feelings of empathy, a skill that most adults struggle with practicing. Kids can easily understand this simple definition: “Empathy is placing yourself in someone else’s shoes.” I hadn’t considered before that manners boost a child’s development of empathy and other positive traits, such as integrity and sincerity that can blossom into feelings of self-worth and self-confidence.

During the week of camp, I began to consider how etiquette and respect can go hand in hand during Mass. That’s why we moms begin teaching our young children to remain quiet when it’s listening time and to pray and sing when it’s time to participate. This helps others to fully partake in the Mass without interruptions. Any mom who has taken their toddler to Mass knows this is a huge task, often challenging, and it takes a lot of practice to keep them involved during Mass.

Back at camp my daughter learned that it’s an expression of etiquette to keep her hands cleaned, including nails trimmed. Having nice hands and nails helps others, yet again, to feel comfortable with you during an appropriate time to shake hands, (such as greetings, introductions and good-byes). I thought about the moments during Mass when we give our family and neighbors the sign of peace with a firm shake of hands and that it’s more pleasant to join hands out of cold and flu season, for instance.

It may seem obvious, but I thought it would be good to point out that my daughter learned that even brushing her teeth helps her have better etiquette. It helps other feels more at ease speaking with us.

Showing good manners through the way we dress may be the most visible sign of respect for yourself and others. My daughter heard about before getting dressed for an occasion, she needs to think about where she’s going, who she’s going with and the purpose of the event. She needs to make sure that what she’s wearing won’t offend others too.

I thought about dressing for Mass and how my family and I could take more steps to show respect for the most important activity we do together all week – honoring and thanking God for our blessings and receiving Him at Holy Communion. We could dress more closely to what we would wear to a wedding or other formal affair to show that we’re prepared to be in the Real Presence of Christ at Mass. Although I don’t allow my daughters to wear shorts or tank tops to church even in the summer, I could do a better job of defining more modest dressing for church, as well as other places.

In the end, what does this mean for your children if you teach manners and practice together as a family in and out of church? Not only are you living a Christian life of loving God and neighbor more closely, but you help to increase their chances for success in life overall – spiritually, personally and professionally.

No need to nag your children or even send them to camp to instruct them in manners. Creating fun games, role playing and kindly discussing etiquette are at the core of effectively teaching them these important skills.

At the final day of camp, my daughter received a tip that wrapped up manners nicely: “If we always think of other people’s feelings, we will never have to worry about proper etiquette. It will just come naturally.”

Copyright 2012 Kim Seidel