Bad-Manners Makeover: 5 Easy Steps to Tuning Up Your Kid's Civility

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by Michele Borba, Ed.D.

Courtesy does count! Scores of studies find that well-mannered children are more popular and do better in school. Notice how often they're invited to others' homes? And listen to their teachers speak about them using such positive accolades.

So if you're noticing a bit of a downslide in your kid's courtesy, it's time for a Bad-Manner Makeover. After all, manners are learned, and there's no reason to accept or cave into a rudness. Below are six easy steps to eliminate your kid's bad-manners, and tune up good-old civility. Yep, it's doable. Just stick to these steps, and don't cave in. The benefit of doing so is not only a better-manner child but also family harmony. So take a pledge and plunge in!

Step 1. Set a Moratorium on Bad-Manners A.S.A.P.
The first step to changing a rude attitude is to simply refuse to allow it. Keep in mind that your kid is using this attitude because it works. So let him know in no uncertain terms that it will no longer be effective. Call any rude behavior each you see it: "That rude! I don't listen to rude talk." Then expect your kid to immediately apologize. Do not answer or give in to your kid if he is rude. Feel free to turn and walk away until he is polite. "I'm in the kitchen. When you can talk to me politely, come and talk to me." Of course this doesn't work overnight! But if you're consistent and civil, change will happen.

Step 2. Identify Your Kids Bad Manners
The second step to any good makeover is recognizing what you want to change. So what does your kid do that you consider impolite? For example: Interrupt? Forget to say thank you? Use the wrong eating utensils? Does he swear? Use her cell phone in the middle of your family dinner? Over the next week, take a serious look at your kid's ill-mannered ways. Jot down a few rude behaviors that specifically concern you. Those are the ones you'll use in Step 3.

Step 3. Replace Impoliteness With New Manners
Now you're ready purge your kid of his rude attitude by teaching him new manners to replace his bad manners. Which ones did you jot down in Step 2? Choose one or two manners per week to tune up, and then give your child lots of opportunities to practice the new skill. Just present the new manner: "This week we're going to remember to say, "excuse me" when you want to say something to someone who is talking." Then show your child what you mean by actually doing it in context. "Dad is talking on the phone and I need to tell him it's time for dinner. I say quietly, "excuse me," and then I wait until he's done talking. Then I tell him what I need to say." Kids do learn best through repetition so find ways to practice the manner during the week. In fact, get the rest of the family involved so that everybody is practicing together. Just make sure everyone is supportive: no teasing allowed.

Step 4. If the Attitude Continues, Set a Consequence
Your kid needs to know you are serious about eradicating his rude attitude, so be prepared to enforce a consequence if the attitude continues. If the same rude attitude persists, you might try requiring your kid to repeat the correct polite behavior 10 times in a row on the spot, or say or even write a sincere apology note to the offended party. For especially offensive discourtesy, up the stakes by forbidding your child to attend social gatherings for an appropriate period of time.

Step 5. Praise Courteous Actions
Most important: don't forget to reinforce your child when she is courteous. Let her know how pleased it makes you feel . Just make sure you describe exactly what your child did right, so your child is more likely to repeat the behavior. "I noticed how you remembered to use such polite words as, "Please" and "Thank you" when we were visiting Mrs. Walker. It makes me happy to know how well-mannered you can be." Or: "Thank you for waiting until everyone was served before you began to eat. That was being polite.

Michele Borba, Ed.D., is an internationally renowned educator recognized for her practical, solution-based parenting strategies to strengthen child's behavior, self-esteem, moral development, and build strong families. She is a sought-after motivational speaker an educational consultant to hundreds of schools. Dr. Borba frequently appears as a guest expert on television and radio. She has been interviewed by numerous publications and serves as an advisory board member for Parents magazine and for the U.S. Board of Education.

Dr. Borba's is the author of nineteen books including No More Misbehavin': 38 Difficult Behaviors and How to Stop Them; Building Moral Intelligence, cited by Publishers' Weekly as "among the most noteworthy of 2001"; Parents Do Make A Difference, selected by Child Magazine as "Outstanding Parenting Book of 1999,"; and Esteem Builders, used by 1.5 million students worldwide. Her latest book is Don't Give Me that Attitude!: 24 Selfish, Rude Behaviors and How to Stop Them. Dr. Borba is a former teacher and partner in a private practice for troubled youth. She lives in Palm Springs, Ca with her husband and three sons.

Copyright © Michele Borba. Permission to republish granted to Pregnancy.org, LLC.