Do you ever realize the lower you keep your expectations, the less likely you are to be disappointed? I don’t expect my children to be the valedictorians of their class, the top athlete in their school, or the most talented in pretty much anything.  But I do have strong expectations for them to be kind, courteous and use good manners because those are the skills that I know will get them anywhere they want to go.

The most impressive people, both young and old, that I have ever met are those who look me in the eye when they talk to me, who naturally use the words “Please” and “Thank You” and who show genuine concern and interest in whatever is going on around them.

Their mannerisms make me feel like they are acknowledging what I have to offer, which makes me drawn to them.  They make a connection and reel me in and I am open to helping them or supporting them in whatever capacity they need.  It’s fairly basic psychology. People want to feel cared for, listened to and appreciated, and using good manners is the most direct way to achieve this…and  the quickest way to get what you want.

Most people teach their children to say “Please” because we are socially driven to do so.  But the real meaning behind using the word “Please” is a polite and direct acknowledgement that we need something from the other person.  When we use the word “please” we are giving the other person perceived power that they are doing us a favor by responding in a way we desire. It makes them feel considered and important, and when used with kindness, it makes them want to help us and give us what we want.

On the flip side, if we instruct and demand what we want without using “Please,” we are implying they have no power and must give us what we expect, without any acknowledgement of appreciation.  You may get the same result, but it will be done so with less desire and possible resentment.

For example:

You are working customer service at the airport and a frantic mother comes up to you because she just realized she and her child have seats that are rows apart. She is panicked at the thought of separation.

Mother Demanding: I just realized that my son has a seat 7 rows up from mine. I need you to change it.  He can’t be that far away from me.  We are boarding in 3 minutes and I need you to do it now.


Mother Manners: I just realized that my son has a seat 7 rows up from mine. I am concerned about him being that far away from me.  Will you please look to see if there is some way I can sit closer to him? I would really appreciate it. We are boarding in 3 minutes and I am getting nervous.

Who do you want to help more? The end result may be the same, but one request makes you feel like you are helping (which naturally makes us feel good) and the other makes you feel underappreciated while meeting their demands. You will naturally work harder for Mother Manners because of the way she makes you feel, and you may even give her the 1st class upgrade to make you both feel even that much better.

The same goes with “Thank You.” Those simple words are an acknowledgement that we appreciate what someone has done for us.  When we show appreciation towards someone, it makes them feel noticed and worthwhile and they are more likely to want to help you again because of the way you made them feel.

And we can’t forget “I’m sorry.” I’m sorry is an acknowledgement that we have made a mistake and we are learning from it.  If said with authenticity, it gives the person you hurt solace to know that you feel badly for wronging them and they can continue to trust that you will work to not hurt them again.  Which is why, if we say “I’m sorry” too often, it becomes meaningless to those who tire of the broken promise of betterment.

If you are a person who directs your child to say “I’m sorry” frequently, it would also be wise to teach them the meaning of the words and decreased value of its overuse or when said without any emotional investment.

A technique I use with my children to remind them to use their manners, is to say “Manners” when the time is right, so they have to think and process which manners to use.  It’s like quizzing them to see if they can get  the right one, with the intent of teaching them how to figure it out on their own.

When they were younger, they spent a lot of time guessing, but they are developing their critical thinking skills more now and need a lot less reminding.  This, of course, in addition to modeling good manners everywhere you go.  If they don’t see us doing it, why should they?

When we are teaching our children good manners, we are also teaching them how to get what they want and how to get ahead.  If we speak to people with respect, they will feel respected and be more inclined to show us respect in return.  And the more we make others feel acknowledged and appreciated, the more doors and opportunities will open for us simply because we make them feel good. We can’t underestimate the importance of good social skills and consistent use of manners.  It may be the most under publicized key to success.

What techniques do you use to teach your kids good manners?