Respectful children who say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ may sometimes seem in short supply these days, but basic good manners still make parents happier than anything else.
Research by internet provider Plusnet has found that nearly three quarters (72 per cent) of parents think being shown respect makes the biggest difference to their day, followed by children saying thank you to them (67 per cent), and giving them a smile (64 per cent).
These simple codes of good behaviour even give parents more pride than the success of a good school report, something only 61 per cent said made the biggest difference to their mood.
Yet despite such clear hankering for respect and good manners, a survey by Waitrose last year found 72 per cent of those questioned thought people have become more rude over the last decade – many even thought good manners should be taught in school as part of the national curriculum.
William Hanson, a senior etiquette tutor at The English Manner, which specialises in teaching manners and etiquette, agrees that politeness is in shorter supply than it once was – and not just among children.
‘It’s their parents too,’ he stresses. ‘They often have no idea when it comes to basic manners and etiquette, and if the parents have no idea then there’s not much hope for the children.’
Hanson says manners are about having respect – both for other people and self-respect – being able to put people at ease, respecting the views of others, and not embarrassing them.
He explains that people show they’re well-mannered by using basic etiquette, including thanking someone for holding a door open for you, or writing a thank you letter for a birthday present.
‘But it’s those basic civilities, the signs of a civilised society, that have gone out of the window.
‘A thank you text is better than nothing, but it’s not the same thing as a nice, hand-written letter.’
He points out that even children as young as four should be sending thank you letters, perhaps by writing their name on a message written by a parent.
‘It means the child is getting into the habit and
is aware of the process,’ he says.
Eye-contact is another key point of etiquette that should be encouraged, Hanson says, as a lack of it could suggest a person is lying or is insecure. Knowing how to shake hands well – even as a child – is equally important.
Strictly speaking, a child should wait for the adult to extend a hand to them, then use the right hand, palm facing inwards but not down, look the person in the eye, and give one or two firm shakes.
Kissing people on the cheeks is fine if you know them, but not if you don’t, adds Hanson.
Knowing how to sit properly at the dinner table and eat correctly is also good etiquette, says Hanson, explaining: ‘We’ve developed these rules over time to make the process of chewing look more pleasant.
‘We eat with our mouth closed, our elbows in, holding the cutlery properly and not talking with our mouth full.’
He suggests that in a restaurant, children should be encouraged to order their own food so they learn at an early age how to do it.