Respect and courtesy rules vary by person, age, geography and culture, among other factors. The basics of being nice, however, are understood by most people of a particular culture. In addition to teaching your child to understand and abide by the specific rules of conduct that you want him to learn, he must also learn the rules that mainstream society expects.
Questions and Answers
Asking questions and getting answers are a part of everyday life. Learning to ask a question respectfully is important in understanding how to get what you want from others. The chasm on the respect scale between, “Give me that!” and “May I please have that?” is significant. Also, “please” and “thank you” are two expressions every child should practice from the moment he can learn to sign or speak. Understanding how to receive negative answers gracefully is a sign of respect. Saying, “OK” when you say that your child cannot go to the park is much more courteous than having a temper tantrum.
Property and Space
A child should also learn to respect property and space. This includes another person's body -- hitting and other kinds of aggressive physical contact are unwelcome and cross lines that could lead to trouble. Not touching the property of others unless the owner gives permission is another "must" when it comes to respect and courtesy. Your child can also learn the importance of respecting property by returning items she borrows or returning lost items to their rightful owners. Taking care of items she owns personally or in common with the family is another way to demonstrate respect.
Waiting and Sharing
Waiting patiently is one of the most difficult skills for children to learn. Waiting her turn for a toy or for an answer from a parent takes maturity and self-discipline. Encouraging your child to share her possessions can also help develop a sense of compassion and connection to others. For example, you could encourage her to give away clothing or other items she no longer needs to someone who does need them.
No one likes to be wrong, and apologizing is how people acknowledge they have made a mistake. Teaching your child to say, “I’m sorry” is not enough, though. Your child is only responding to your authority when you force her to apologize. Encourage her to try to understand how the person she hurt felt and to focus on what she will do differently next time.
As a parent, modeling how to be respectful and courteous to your child and others will help your child develop these skills. Although you may not be successful all the time, acknowledging your mistakes and trying to do better next time will also help your child see that being polite is worthwhile goal.
The root of being polite is understanding that the people around you are worthy of your respect and courtesy. Helping your child to develop a sense of empathy for others and teaching him that every person is as special as he is and deserves to be treated nicely will help the manners you instill last a lifetime.