When Amy Maggard talks about the importance of good manners, she paints a vivid picture with her words.
Maggard, who teaches etiquette at Discover Modeling, Inc., describes two students. One slumps in her chair and leans her head on her elbow while the teacher talks. The other sits up straight and listens. Maggard goes on to suppose what happens when the teacher must make a judgment call about a student’s grade. Maggard tells young people that the attentive student might receive a higher grade because of her attitude. “That could be the determining factor,” Maggard said.
She and others who teach manners to children believe the skills can contribute to a person’s long-term success, in both obvious and subtle ways. Manners make a difference-even though our society seems to be more willing than ever to tolerate rudeness, added Nora Cline of Modern Manners in Powell. “We don’t have the sense of respect that children had” years ago, she said. “Children are too familiar with grown-ups.”
Moms and dads shouldn’t get discouraged by rude behavior on television or movies, the experts said. Parents have a greater impact on their kids than those other influences, added Kara Newby, program coordinator for human development and family sciences at the Ohio State University Extension. Just start with the basics, she said. “You teach your kids letters, not how to read,” she explained. “Each step is a building block. You’re building character.”
And remember, the power of manners has been documented in research studies, Newby said. Studies have shown that in order to be successful, people need more than book smarts, she said. They must also possess “emotional intelligence,” or the ability to communicate clearly and show empathy. “Emotional intelligence makes a person successful in the workplace,” she said.
Good manners also can help a person make a good first impression, which also can be crucial to a person’s success. “First impressions really do have a big effect on the way people see you and perceive you,” Newby said.
Many desired workplace skills-integrity, punctuality and politeness- grow out of good manners, Cline said. “Manners are the foundation of civility. Manners are always important.”
That’s why Jennifer Otis of Westerville sent her daughters to one of Cline’s camps. After 6-year-old Riley attended the camp last summer, she began to introduce herself to people and initiate friendships, Otis said. Riley’s older sister, Peyton, 8, has become a stickler for table manners.
“It’s really important to start learning manners at a very early age,” Otis said. “I think it’s important to know how to interact with others in a social setting.” Otis also practices good manners with the girls at home-something the experts say is crucial to passing on the behaviors.
Parents must model politeness, Cline said. “Children will mimic what they see,” she said. “When you teach children manners when they are young, it becomes a way of life.”
As children get older, parents need to set appropriate limits on the use of cellular phones and music headsets, added Dorothy Duncan of U-R-Valued, an image consulting firm in Columbus. “Parents have to be brave enough to tell kids to turn them off. I tell my students the people that you’re with are more important than the ones you’re texting,” Duncan said.
Cline suggests parents use role playing to teach these skills. If you are taking children to a fancy dinner, show them how to greet their hosts, sit at the table and eat their food. “They need to know what parents expect,” she said. Cline also encourages families to make the lessons fun. One way to do that is to role play the wrong way to handle a situation. “Do the negative first and let the kids get silly. Then follow up with the positive,” she said.