Last weekend, we had a family get-together to celebrate the birthday of one of my children. While all the kids in the party were great company, one brother-and-sister pair stood out.
They didn’t do anything extraordinary, but what I noticed was their natural graciousness and manners.
Upon arrival, the 10-year-old brother led his younger sister to approach me. They greeted me with a pleasant, “Good afternoon, tita!” and introduced themselves. I knew who they were, but I was impressed by their manners.
They spoke naturally and were completely at ease, which meant it was normal for them.
Later on, I learned that they had behaved similarly in front of my husband Migs—the young boy engaging in a casual conversation about his school.
Before they left, they once again came to me to say goodbye. They thanked me for the invitation and the giveaways. Once again, there was no adult prodding.
It made me realize how much I take for granted social graces and good manners, and how it is so much more than just using the magic words and not putting one’s elbows on the table.
I do issue reminders to my children once in a while—oh, all right, whenever I remember!
It’s not an excuse, but with all the child issues parents have to deal with—faith, behavior and attitude, academics, health, discipline—manners are brushed aside as something that kids will naturally acquire as they get older.
But this is not always the case.
We can’t always be sure that what they learn when they are older will be something they will value, as they will be old enough to decide for themselves.
And so, while I still can, I’m polishing those manners and graces in my children.
1) Greeting upon arrival and before leaving. A simple “Good morning,” and a “goodbye and thank you” before leaving are all a parent needs to hear from a house visitor or party guest. This simple act shows acknowledgement and respect.
2) Magic words. This is probably the oldest rule in the book, but it never goes out of style. “Please” goes hand-in-hand with “Yes, please,” “Thank you” or “No, thank you.” And, if I may add, a formal “Yes” when answering elders instead of the casual “yeah” used for friends and peers.
3) While I believe in giving children undivided attention, it’s also right to teach them to learn to wait for their turn. It is quite challenging to teach children to be patient and refrain from interrupting adults while they are having a conversation, but if they must interrupt, then they must begin with an “Excuse me…”
4) As the old saying goes, “If you have nothing good to say, don’t say anything at all.” Easier said than done for both adults and children!
5) “How are you?” is a question asked almost automatically after a greeting. But it is still deserving of a proper answer and, afterwards, asking the same in return and listening with sincere interest to the answer.
6) Knock before entering any room, including a toilet cubicle, which may have been accidentally left unlocked by the person inside who may have been in a hurry.
7) Remember to send a message of thanks for all gifts received and when invited somewhere. I would love to insist on a handwritten thank-you note, because everybody loves receiving an actual card. But, in this day and age, I’m happy with a simple text message, as this is usually as much as I can do myself. However, if you want to go the extra mile and send an actual note, that’s definitely a plus!
No excuse for bad words
8) The use of offensive foul language is something I have been very strict about. There is never an excuse to use bad words. Ever. It does not make them look cool, nor does it help them get their point across more clearly. There are thousands of words in the English language, Tagalog and other Filipino languages. Learn some new words if you feel strongly about something.
9) Table manners. This would take a whole column, but if we can get the basics covered, I’m happy—using utensils correctly, napkin on the lap and waiting for everyone to finish their meal before excusing themselves. And since we are in the digital age, I think it’s time to update this by keeping gadgets off the table.
10) Saying “Excuse me/us” when passing through a crowd or group of people. If, in the process, someone gets bumped or hurt accidentally, a simple apology and assistance are in order.
11) I’ve never gotten used to saying, “I beg your pardon” and it doesn’t look like my children will, either. Fortunately, there are other ways our children can ask someone to repeat what they said, such as, “I’m sorry, could you please repeat that?” and not simply saying, “What?”
12) Respecting elders. You could make a whole list of this, but all we really need to do is instill in our children the value of respect and making sure they put the needs of elders before their own. They must show respect through their tone of voice and the words they use. This is especially true when speaking in Filipino. We have to constantly remind our children to be conscious of using “po” and “opo” and to refrain from speaking to their elders in the second person (“ka,” “ikaw”), and to instead, use the third person (“siya,” “sila”).
There are also the simple tasks, such as holding the door open, giving up their seats and making themselves useful when their elders need something— such as fetching them a drink or turning on the fan when they are warm.
Teaching our children good manners goes beyond simply telling them what to do. It needs constant practice and reminding until it becomes second nature.