Raising polite children in a rude world

manners croppedRaising polite children in a rude world. It’s a challenge for every family.  In the premiere issue of “South Hills Living,” Mountaineer Montessori School offers tips for incorporating the principles of grace and courtesy into everyday life.  We appreciate the thoughtful insights provided by Head of School Dana Rowe Gilliland, Kanawha Pastoral Counseling Center Director Sky Kershner and etiquette expert Pamela Harvit. 

We also offer a special thank you to this month’s advertising sponsor, Randall J. Hill, M.D. & Aaron R. Parry II, M.D.  Watch for opportunities on how you and your businesses can help MMS share positive messages about children and families in upcoming issues.


Minding their Manners: Raising Polite Children in a Rude World

In today’s digital, drive-through world, many worry that good manners may be going the way of the dinosaur.

While times may change, courtesy and kindness never go out of fashion, and still play a big role in supporting a child’s social interactions, academic learning and eventual career advancement. We talked to three South Hills experts who share tips for parents on making manners a way of life for your child.


In the home

December 2014 P.1Parents are a child’s first teachers. When it comes to manners, what they see and hear at home will have a greater impact than anything they read in a book or learn in a class.

“It is never too early to start learning manners,” says Pamela Harvit, a certified protocol consultant. Harvit, who attended the The Protocol School of Washington, is the founder of the Harvit School of Protocol and Professionalism.

Havitt suggests that parents start by always saying “please,” “thank you” and “excuse me” to their children, no matter their age.

“Making this a habit that children hear and see continually at home is much more likely to result in children responding in the same way as they grow.”

Another simple way to instill positive habits is by setting the table properly.

“Even if it’s just as simple as placing the napkin in the right position, or knowing which side of the plate the fork, spoon and knife should go, this helps a child realize there is more to eating than just getting food into their mouths,” says Harvit.

Sky Kershner, executive director of the Kanawha Pastoral Counseling Center and pastoral leader of Unity of Kanawha Valley, 804 Myrtle, agrees that manners count.

“I am interested in manners developing out of mutual respect and a sense of empathy for the other person,” says Kershner.

“I often see manners being coerced or a child threatened with adverse consequence for not using manners. I have even seen parents yell ‘Stop being so rude’! The irony of this seems to be missed in their frustration of the moment.”

In his book “Raising Children Compassionately: Parenting the Non-Violent Communication Way,” Marshall Rosenberg observes that parents would probably never get away with talking to a fellow adult in the way we talk to our children.

“There is a lot of room for more positive modeling. Is there a way to teach manners politely? I think there is!,” Kershner says.

At school

December 2014 p 2Poorly mannered students not only derail their own learning and sabotage friendships but can interfere with education for their classmates. Class rules and behavior guidelines can create a set of expectations for interactions that create a positive learning environment.

In Montessori schools, manners are a way of life. “Character formation cannot be taught. It comes from experience, not explanation,” said Maria Montessori.

“We practice the Montessori philosophy of grace and courtesy, which extends to relationships between students and teachers and the entire school community,” says Dana Gilliland, Head of School at Mountaineer Montessori School. “Students learn respect by being respected.”

Teachers model grace and courtesy and gently guide primary (ages 3-6) students’ positive behavior, while elementary and middle school students often create their own codes of conduct and hold each other accountable for living up to them. “Students are motivated to abide by rules when they are the ones who’ve created them,” Gilliland says.

“Character is not what you learn. Character is what you do,” says Gilliland.

At social events

Dec 8 JPEGThe upcoming holiday season presents many opportunities and challenges for instilling good manners. Harvit cautions that children must be properly prepared for parties, concerts, religious services and special events.

“It is really quite difficult to expect children to use proper manners at formal occasions if they never see it at home and sadly, sometimes it may be the parents who need coaching on their manners more than the child!,” she says.

The holidays are also a good time to teach the importance of thank you notes.  Even children too young to write can decorate a card to express their gratitude, says Harvit.

The annual Children’s Tea presented by the West Virginia Symphony League is a wonderful opportunity for children to develop their “party manners” and support West Virginia’s leading performing arts organization.  This year’s tea, “Polar Express,” will be held on Dec. 7 at Berry Hills Country Club. For more information, please see the events listing.

Good manners will always be in fashion, says Peggy Post, the great- granddaughter-in-law of the famed Marjorie Merriweather Post. “It’s not about old-fashioned etiquette with your pinkie in the air. It’s about making people feel comfortable. It’s a relationship-driven activity built on respect, being aware of others and inclusive of them, and on honesty and tact.”

And that’s a lesson that will stand the test of time.

JoEllen Zacks is a South Hills mother, lawyer and education advocate