Happy summer everyone!

I thought a re-post of this article I wrote for Austin Woman Magazine may help some of you parents out there this summer! Please pass on to those who are rearing children. It is the toughest and best job on the planet!



By Jan Goss, Illustration by Katie Holmstrom

Have you ever noticed that parents with well-behaved children think they are the greatest parents on earth? When our children act out in front of them, we feel like complete failures. I ran a therapeutic group home for eight years and had up to 10 children in my home at a single time who were birthed by someone else…plus three children of my own. Yes, I had 13 children under the same roof. I developed behavior plans and taught manners. Some children were well behaved, and some were, well, let’s say challenging.

Had I tied my self-esteem to my children’s manners, I would have been on an emotional roller coaster—I definitely would have given the Texas Giant a run for its money. So over time, I discovered the first secret to teaching children manners: detach emotionally. It’s true that children learn what you live, but there’s more to it than that. You are not responsible for your child’s choices. I have seen the most gracious, kind parents with some pretty unruly children.

Living the example is critical and my second secret to teaching manners. However, it takes more than just living the example and detaching emotionally for effective manner development. It takes the third critical key to achieve success. If you are a parent you are acutely aware that children have a mind of their own. So how do we teach children manners? It is really quite simple. It is a matter of training.

You know that feeling when you take your new puppy to dog training class and realize they are not really training your dog? It is you that needs to make adjustments! It is not so different with children. Training is developing habits, thoughts and behaviors by repetitive discipline and instruction. My suggestion is to take one behavior at a time and work only on that one behavior until it is a habit.

This part of training is much more about you than the child. If you are working on the manner of “saying please when you make a request,” it is important for you to hold your ground and not give in until they say please. This points back to the first secret: If you don’t detach emotionally and you give in when they throw a fit, you are training them to throw a fit. I think we all know adults who still try this behavior! Live the example before them and repeat the training until it becomes a habit.

You are laying a foundation for your child’s success. Teaching your children manners is not about you or protecting your image. It is for their benefit. It takes time, swallowing your pride and patience. In the end, however, it always pays back great dividends. When a child is clear about how they should behave, it gives them an edge in life. It opens doors for them. It gives them their greatest chance to develop healthy relationships.

Manners matter. So develop manners in your children by using these three secret keys:

  • Detach Emotionally
  • Live the Example
  • Train by Repetition

Teach or train? Well I believe both!


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