My son is two, and I would like to really start emphasizing good manners. How did you instill them in your children?
Our Mommy MD Guide’s reply: I believe that good manners go way beyond please and thank you. Going beyond that makes your child really stand out.
When my children were very young, my husband and I taught them to say please and thank you. But then we took it a step further. We next taught them that when they’re speaking to look the person in the eye and smile, and then when someone asks, “How are you?” respond by saying “I’m fine, thank you. How are you?”
It’s amazing how very few people teach their children how to respond to a greeting. I remember my son’s grade school principal told me once that my son was one of the very few children he had ever encountered who looked into his eyes and asked how he was doing. He was very surprised by it.
I discovered after I taught my son to do this, it became very self-fulfilling. When my son responded that way, adults were so delighted and so encouraging to him, he wanted to do it again and again.
After my son had that down, we worked on the next step. I explained that when someone only talks about himself, he often walks away from a conversation feeling really bored and dissatisfied. It’s so much more interesting to learn something new about someone else.
But my son had a hard time coming up with other topics of conversation. So I made up the acronym FOR, which stand for Family, Occupation, and Recreation. This helped my son to come up with ways to continue a conversation. He could ask the person about their family, their job, or what they did for fun.
These lessons really helped my son to become a great conversationalist. Once, when my son was 11 years old, he went to dinner with his aunt, who was dating at the time. After dinner, she told me that my son was a better communicator than most of her dates!
I believe it’s important to make people feel comfortable around you—to be socially graceful. It’s a skill that we undervalue, especially for boys, but one that reaps huge benefits throughout life. I want my son to be able to look people in the eye and have a conversation with them. He’s grown to be the kind of boy mothers want their daughter to date, the boy teachers want in their class, and the boy coaches want on their team.
Being able to talk easily with people has really helped my son to stand out. And I taught him these techniques very gradually over time. It simply became part of the fabric of his life.
—Julie Silver, MD, a mom of a 17-year old son and 13- and 9-year old daughters, a Boston area physiatrist, and the award-winning writer of more than a dozen books, including After Cancer Treatment: Heal Faster, Better, Stronger