042: How to teach a child to use manners

I actually hadn’t realized what a can of worms I was opening when I started the research for today’s episode, which is on the topic of manners and politeness. It began innocently enough – as an English person, for whom manners are pretty important, I started to wonder why my almost three-year-old doesn’t have better manners yet. It turns out that it was a much more difficult subject to research than I’d anticipated, in part because it draws on a variety of disciplines, from child development to linguistics.

And at the heart of it, I found myself torn between two different perspectives. The parenting philosophy that underlies the respectful relationship I have with my daughter, which is called Resources for Infant Educarers, or RIE, advocates for the use of modeling to transmit cultural information like manners – if you, the parent, are a polite person, then your child will learn about manners. On the flip side of that is the practice of saying “what do you say?” or something similar when you want your child to say “please” or “thank you,” something that I know a lot of parents do. My general approach has been to model good manners consistently but I do find it drives me bananas when my daughter says “I want a [whatever it is]” without saying “please,” and RIE also says parents should set a limit on behavior when they find it annoying. So I have been trying to walk a fine line between always modeling good manners and requiring a “please” before I acquiesce to a demand, and I wondered whether research could help me to come down on one side or the other of this line and just be sure about what I’m doing. So this episode is going to be about my explorations through the literature on this topic, which are winding and convoluted – actually both the literature and my explorations are winding and convoluted, and by the time we get to the end I hope to sort out how I’m going to instill a sense of politeness in my daughter, and how you might be able to do it for your child as well.


Other episodes referenced in this show

004: How to encourage creativity and artistic ability in children (and symbolic representation)

026: Is my child lying to me? (Hint: yes!)

005: How to “scaffold” children’s learning to help them succeed

034: How do I get my child to do chores?

007: Help!  My toddler won’t eat vegetables

031: Parenting beyond pink and blue

006: Wait, is my toddler racist?



Becker, J.A. (1988). The success of parents’ indirect techniques for teaching their preschoolers pragmatic skills. First Language 8, 173-182.

Brown, P., & Levinson, S.C. (1987). Politeness: Some Universals in Language Usage. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

De Lucca Freitas, L.B., Pieta, M.A.M., & Tudge, J.R.H. (2011). Beyond Politeness: The expression of gratitude in children and adolescents. Psicologia: Reflexao e Critica 24(4), 757-764.

Durlack, J.A., Weissberg, R.P., Dymnicki, A.B., Taylor, R.D., & Schellinger, K.B. (2011). The impact of enhancing student’s social and emotional learning: A meta-analysis of school-based universal interventions. Child Development 82(1), 405-432.

Einzig, R. (2015). Model graciousness. Retrieved from: https://visiblechild.wordpress.com/2015/09/02/model-graciousness/ (Also see Robin’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/visiblechildinc/)

Ervin-Tripp, S., Guo, J., & Lampert, M. (1990). Politeness and persuasion in children’s control acts. Journal of Pragmatics 14, 307-331.

Grief, E.B., & Gleason, J.B. (1980). Hi, thanks, and goodbye: More routine information. Language in Society 9(2), 159-166.

Ely, R., & Gleason, J.B. (2006). I’m sorry I said that: Apologies in young children’s discourse. Journal of Child Language 33 (599-620).

Gleason, J.B., Perlmann, R.Y., Grief, E.B. (1984). What’s the magic word: Learning language through politeness routines. Discourse Processes 7(4), 493-502.

Kuykendall, J. (1993). “Please,” “Thank you,” “You’re welcome”: Teacher language can positively impact prosocial development. Day Care and Early Education 21(1), 30-32.

Lancy, D.F. (2015). The anthropology of childhood: Cherubs, chattel, changelings (2nd Ed.). Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.

Lansbury, J. (2014, January 16). They’ll grow into it – Trusting children to develop manners, toilet skills, emotional regulation and more. Retrieved from: http://www.janetlansbury.com/2014/01/theyll-grow-into-it-trusting-children-to-develop-manners-toilet-skills-emotional-regulation-and-more/

Lo, A., & Howard, K.M. (2009). Mobilizing respect and politeness in classrooms. Linguistics and Education 20, 211-216.

Snow, C.E., & Gleason, J.B. (1990). Developmental perspectives on politeness: Sources of children’s knowledge. Journal of Pragmatics 14, 289-305.

Suzuku, M. (2015, October 23). Bowing in Japan: Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about how to bow, and how not to bow, in Japan. Retrieved from: https://www.tofugu.com/japan/bowing-in-japan/


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