Mind your manners, please…
When is it too early to teach your children the social niceties of greeting other people.

So, I was wondering, when is it too early to teach your children the social niceties of saying ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ – and perhaps ‘please’ and ‘thank you’? And, is it ever too late? 

There’s only one thing that annoys me more than a 5-year-old child who turns away when I greet them – and that’s when their parent makes excuses for it: “Shame, he’s had a bad morning, that’s why he won’t say hello…”

Bad morning? When you’re five? A bad morning is being stuck in traffic for two hours, followed by spilling coffee on your white blouse just before you run into a meeting with your MD, and he’s hungover and grumpy... THAT’s a bad morning, one that will only be made worse if you fail to greet people who take the time to acknowledge your presence. 

Your 4-year-old can’t return my ‘hello’ because there’s a thumb or a dummy stuck in his mouth – and you’re okay with that? Is that not taking ‘pacifier’ a little too far, perhaps? Isn’t it time for them to learn to talk to other people without a placeholder where their voice (and manners) should be?

Now, please don’t misunderstand me here – I don’t expect children that young to be confident enough to engage in lengthy conversations about the weather, politics or the state of religion when I greet them. A simple return ‘hello’ would do, when I do as the experts have told, and get down to their level, make eye contact, and smile when I greet them. 

Another thing I don’t want you to misunderstand here is that I most certainly don’t hold the children responsible for their lack of social propriety. It’s their parents’ problem, 100%. 

As parents, we are (most importantly) tasked with keeping our children alive, safe and happy, and then, with making them functioning parts of our admittedly very complex society. One of their first steps in this very complex journey is greeting other people, and acknowledging the small kindnesses that we, as a civilisation, love to bestow on children – our own, and the children of people in our circle of friends. 

Why am I ranting about this? Mostly because I wonder exactly when it is that these children (or their parents) will realise that they need simple manners to function in society – and that it’s never too early to be the grown up in the relationship, and insist on it. 

Who’s going to teach them manners when they walk into their first job, and don’t greet the people around them? Who’s going to give them that lucky break after a random, co-incidental chat – if they’re not engaging enough to actually talk to someone who shows some interest in them? 

My boys have been taught from the time they were starting to talk to smile at people, to greet them, to say please and thank you. And here’s the thing: Not only are they confident, easy-going children who can make eye-contact with anyone – they make any outing a complete pleasure, because they make friends wherever we go, whether it’s with other children, cashiers in supermarkets, waiters in restaurants, or random people in queues, in turn making each experience that much more pleasant for all of us. 

It could just be that I’m blessed with children who are naturally confident. But it also could be that they’re confident enough to greet strangers and engage with people because we’ve actively encouraged them to do so. 

The author would like to reassure readers that every child in her social circle has beautiful, impeccable manners. 

Do you think that kids can ever be too young to have manners?

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