Teaching Children Good Manners

Scripture and prayer should always take precedence in the family devotional time, but extra “nonreligious” activities can be included regularly or occasionally with exciting results. These extras are especially appealing and effective with children of elementary school age or older.

When our children were in elementary school, I detected that they lacked confidence during certain social situations. So for several weeks we followed our Bible reading and prayer time with a course in etiquette.

We began with introductions—how to introduce a child to an adult a woman to a man, an adult to a child. We used a role-playing method. Our youngest child would play “Grandma” (she was four years old at the time). The other children would assume the role of introducer or introducee.

We moved on to table manners, including table conversation. We talked about making others feel at ease. I shared with the children that etiquette is simply a collection of ideas and guidelines for us to help other people feel comfortable in our presence.

After a few weeks of our quick course in good manners, we all went to dinner together to practice our newfound skills.

During the learning sessions, our children laughed and joked as they practiced introductions, or flipped the dinner napkins to their laps with a flourish, or rushed to open the car door for one another. But we noticed that when the real situations arose, they responded with ease.

Since that time, they have exhibited some sad lapses in etiquette. In fact a few years after the home training, some close friends of ours told us that one of our children seemed discourteous and sullen when they had visited our home. We had noticed it too, but, like all parents, hoped that others had not.

We appreciated our friends’ honesty in bringing the child’s need to our attention. We felt the child by nature was not uncivil, but merely shy and uncomfortable with anyone other than peers. However, since in life we must all relate to a wide variety of people and not just a narrow group of our own choosing we planned a way to help the child.

Rather than using direct confrontation, we decided to involve the entire family in another series of role-playing situations following our devotional times. These situations were designed to give them confidence with a wide range of people. We discussed and practiced how to:

stand when an adult enters a room;

always look another person in the eyes when speaking,

offer a hand as a gesture of friendship and welcome;

be prepared with “small talk” to cover any early awkwardness when meeting someone;

invite visitors to be seated;

be prepared to donate a few minutes of personal time to making visitors comfortable;

offer something to drink (even seven- and eight-year-olds can make and serve refreshments).

Although these suggestions were hard for the child to practice, we saw improvement. The child who before had appeared discourteous to our friends today seems quite secure in meeting new people and adapting to social situations.

Over the years we have determined several reasons for adding the extras to our family devotional times.

Relating Bible truth to everyday life

By adding extra activities we can help our children relate their spiritual views to the world at large. We want our children to identify their biblical training with all areas of life, since the truths of Scripture are not to be isolated from everyday affairs.

When we begin a family activity or project like this, we try to help our children understand how it relates to the truth of God’s word even when the connection might seem to be remote. If we decide to play a rousing game of kickball, for example, we can comment on the healthy bodies God has given us.

If we frequently apply scriptural principles to these activities, our children will see God’s pattern of involvement and influence in all their daily experiences.

Teaching the children is our responsibility

Many of the values and concepts our children hear about at school, from playmates, or on television run counter to the life values we are trying to instill in them. We cannot control every input into their lives. But we can influence them at home.

Children hear a great deal of wrong information, for example, regarding moral issues. They hear of abortion, homosexuality, adultery, and situational ethics. They need our guidance to learn how to view these issues from a biblical perspective. When children reach adolescence—and perhaps earlier—these topics should be discussed openly and often. They should always be discussed in light of the Scriptures.

In our family we plan to read and talk about portions of Whatever Happened to the Human Race? by Francis Schaeffer and C. Everett Koop. We feel it will give our children a healthy perspective for considering God’s value for human life. It will open areas for discussion that might not otherwise come up.

Some of the negative influences draw our children away from God very subtly. We scarcely recognize what is happening until a large problem looms. If we consistently watch for such problems and, more importantly, offer continuous freedom to discuss them, we have a chance to redirect our children’s thinking.

Many topics you discuss will fascinate your children to the point that they will want to continue talking about them at times other than devotions. This interest indicates the positive influence we can have with them.

We have three daughters in our family, and like most women they are interested in clothes and fashion. When my husband Jerry was traveling for a few weeks and our son was attending camp, we took a short course in fashion. We talked about matching colors, fabrics, and patterns. We cut “wish” wardrobes from magazines and modeled the ideal costume for one another.

Throughout the project I brought up the need for modesty in our dress. We don’t want our girls to be puritanical, but we do emphasize that they represent Jesus Christ and that their attractiveness should be for his sake. We talked about the beauty that comes from within—being a lovely person in character as well as appearance.

Developing their minds

The extra activities in family devotional times can also contribute to our children’s intellectual development. Simply asking questions is the first step in keeping their brains active, and many other activities will also stimulate their thinking.

To develop them culturally, listen to a recording together, or read them a biography of Thomas Edison, or give them clay and ask them to shape an animal after you’ve looked together at photographs of famous sculpture—all this will enrich them and also expand their appreciation of human progress and achievement. At the same time you can discuss trends our culture is following, such as materialism and immorality, that counter the values we see in Scripture.

More communication and unity

Creative activities in your devotions can help you enhance family communication. Our fast-paced society may bring frustration to parents trying to maintain family unity. Jerry and I were surprised and dismayed to realize how quickly our growing children were becoming involved in outside activities such as sports, music, and church groups—all commendable, but all drawing them away from the family circle. We found, however, that by varying our special activities we could focus together on things of interest.

Sometimes that meant doing together what one child was committed to. We might all attend Kathy’s gymnastics meet. Then, instead of formal devotions, we would have a time of prayer and praise on the drive home. Or we would attend Karen’s choir concert, and then make popcorn at home and read a Scripture portion together. Though we sometimes are unable to conduct devotions in a structured way, we use the moments we can to share our lives together in a meaningful way.

M. White

Published by Intentional Faith

Devoted to a Faith that Thinks

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