The Message Behind Our Manners

Our inquisitive children ask many tough questions about why we must behave the way we do (i.e. manners)…

  • Why shouldn’t I talk with my mouth full?
  • What must I use a fork and knife?
  • Why do we knock on doors and wait to be invited inside?
  • Why do I shake hands with people I don’t know?
  • Why do I say “hello” and “good-bye”?
  • Why do I have to say “please”?

Like me, you’ve probably answered with some variation of “Because that’s what we do.” This statement is true, but perhaps it’s incomplete. In truth, manners are cultural. What’s appropriate in some cultures is anathema in others. (I may write a children’s book about this one day.) But manners are more than social/cultural expectations. Manners are biblical!

From 1 Corinthians 13:5, love…        does not dishonor others. NIV

is not rude.  ESV

does not act unbecomingly.  NASB

does not behave rudely.  NKJV

From Philippians 2:3, in humility…         value others above yourselves.  NIV

                   count others more significant than yourselves.  ESV

                   regard one another as more important than yourselves.  NASB

                   let each esteem others better than himself.  NKJV

How does using manners help our children?

Manners teach patience. We wait for someone to open the door when we knock. We finish chewing and swallowing before we speak. Small applications of patience make the bigger tests easier to manage.

Manners teach thoughtfulness and thankfulness. Keeping our mouths closed to chew shows we know others don’t want to see our half-masticated food. Our unprompted “thank you” shows we’ve recognized the other person’s generosity toward us. When we consider the comfort of others, we’re beginning to learn empathy.

What do our manners say to those around us?

Manners convey the other person’s value. When we use the fork for green beans—even when we struggle with it—we show respect for others at the table, who don’t want to see our messy fingers. When we shake hands after an introduction, we’re saying that person is worth our attention.

Manners show respect—for others and for ourselves. When we wait until a break in conversation before we speak, we demonstrate that we value the other person’s thoughts above our own. When we refrain from slurping our soup, we’re recognizing everyone else’s desire for a quiet meal.

Is it super-important that our children use the right fork for their salads (if they’ll even eat salad)? No. To be honest, some days I would rather eat my green beans with my fingers, too. But teaching our kids to make the effort in small things leads them to respectful attitudes and actions when the consequences are bigger.

In Intentional Parenting, the Gospel informs everything we do, including our manners. When we frame our explanations (our answers to the “why” questions) in terms of the Gospel, we help them understand that faith affects all of life. When we teach our children to say “please” and “thank you,” even when we show them how to eat with utensils rather than their fingers, they learn more than these practical actions. Our children learn how to demonstrate love and humility toward the people around them. They learn how to act like Christ would act in our culture.

Our manners convey love and humility toward the people around us. #Manners matter in #IntentionalParenting, via @Carole_Sparks. (click to tweet)

Do you have any practical tips on helping our kids learn to “mind their manners?” Any other thoughts on why—or if—manners are important? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below!


For 21 interesting meal-time do’s and don’ts from around the world, check out this slideshow: I found it while researching this topic.

Recommended reading: A Smart Girl’s Guide: Manners, from American Girl. Here’s a quote from the introduction:

“A girl who chooses to use good manners is telling the world she believes that other people matter as much as she does.”

Respect is a Two-Way Street

We all want—no, expect—our children to respect us. It’s Biblical, right? Both the Old and New Testaments say, “Honor your father and mother” (e.g. Exodus 20:12, Ephesians 6:2). We are right to expect respect, but no matter how much we quote these verses, no matter how much we stomp our feet and vociferously demand respect, we don’t always get it.

Why not? Well, part of the reason is the sin nature with which both we and our children were born. Part of the reason is our culture and the influences of media, peers, etc. But may I submit something to you? Perhaps another part of the reason our children don’t respect us is because we don’t respect them. Respect is a two-way street.

In Intentional Parenting, we model respect for our own elders and superiors (at work, church, etc.). We also talk about respect, about how honoring others honors God and other associated Biblical concepts, such as “The Golden Rule.” Sometimes, however, we forget to apply those same Biblical concepts within our families as well.

Need some solutions? Here are a few age-appropriate ways to demonstrate respect toward your children. You can expect that respect to be reciprocated.

At Any Age

Follow through on your promises and commitments. If you said you’ll read a book before bed, then read a book. No excuses. If you said, “One more time and you lose [a certain privilege],” then after one more time, they lose that privilege.

This kind of integrity demonstrates that your words to the child actually mean something. When you begin to do what you say you will do, they will start listening.

Young Children

From the first visit to a playground or first playdate, institute a two-minute warning. Two minutes before you need to leave, tell the child he/she has two minutes remaining to play. (We usually tried to give a five-minute warning as well.) This simple warning has helped us avoid so many tantrums! I know because the times we didn’t give a warning were much more difficult.

When you, as an adult, are busy on a project or in a conversation, you don’t like to be interrupted. Even worse, you don’t want to be forced to stop without warning. I don’t either. Why do we think it’s any easier for our children?

Early Elementary

Allow your children to make as many decisions as possible. Before you correct (or laugh—even worse!), ask yourself if it really matters. Toy storage locations, everyday clothes worn, books to read, interests to pursue…all these are decisions a six-year-old can make. Maybe you prefer the Legos in the bin on the left and the doll clothes in the bin on the right; maybe there are even good reasons for your preference, but as long as there’s no danger, allow your child the choice. That “ownership” in the location of the toys may even help at clean-up time.

Children at this age long for independence, but they have so little. By allowing their decisions to stand, we demonstrate the validity of their choices and affirm the children as independent thinkers. Besides functioning as a confidence builder and sign of respect, this approach will help your children know that when you do object, there’s an important reason.

Middle-Grade Children

Elementary and middle-grade children have so many stories to tell. Let’s be honest, though. Some of them are boring. Long and boring. As parents, we may be tempted to interrupt with something unrelated or jump in and quickly finish the story ourselves. Don’t interrupt. Allow them to finish the stories. (At our house, we have a sign for “make this shorter” when the story gets too long. It helps.) If it’s necessary to interrupt, say “Excuse me,” just like you would if interrupting an adult.

From the time they could speak, we’ve taught our children not to interrupt us. Allowing them the same honor says their experiences are valuable and their family participation is important.

Tweens and Teens

If your child asks you not to show affection in a certain way or say a certain thing in front of his/her friends, don’t do it. Respect their public image. Public displays of affection, pet names, even cheering too loudly may infantilize our teenagers (at least in their own eyes), and it may be fodder for teasing or bullying among their peers. Our teenagers don’t deserve that. Don’t worry, they’ll still enjoy the hugs, pats, and verbal affection in private. Also, refrain from telling embarrassing stories or showing naked baby pictures no matter how cute they are.

Let’s face it; we will embarrass our teenagers. It’s inevitable. But our efforts to minimize the embarrassment demonstrate our respect for their increased maturity. That respect will surely be reciprocated.

Reciprocate Respect

The world says respect is earned, not given. Contrary to the world, however, the Bible says every person—regardless of position or power—is a unique creation of God Most High (Psalm 139, for example). We begin there: every person deserves respect. This is not a burden to lay on our children (that they should respect us) but a principle to lay under our interactions with our children (that they are worthy of respect). At the same time, however, we parents should live lives worthy of our children’s respect. That’s just a given. We clear the way for respectful responses when we demonstrate respect in our interactions with them. Respect is a two-way street.

Respect your children at every age and you can expect respect from them-5 ideas. (click to tweet)

I thought about sharing stories of parents carrying their children from the playground in the middle of a temper tantrum, but let’s not do that. Instead, use the comments below to share some positive stories of reciprocated respect. Let us hear from you!

Rainy road (c) Carole Sparks

Mom’s Best Gifts for Dad Every Day (not just Father’s Day)

**This post is exclusively for mothers. Sorry, guys.**

This Sunday is our official day to honor the fathers in our lives, including the father(s) of our children. (I’m married to the father of both my children, but I know that’s not always the case. These principles still apply if you’re divorced, never married, or otherwise.) When it comes to fathers, unless you honor him every day, you won’t be able to authentically honor him on this special day. As we approach Father’s Day this year, consider how you might tweak your attitude toward your husband in order to show him more honor.

3 Ways to Honor the Father of Your Children (with lots of sub-points)

I’m going to be very straightforward here. It’s not my intention to be harsh; I just don’t want any padding to distract you from the truth in the details (and my word count gets too high too quickly anyway). I’m not pointing fingers. This is the way I deal with myself.

  1. Show Respect

God calls women to respect their husbands. It’s one of those verses with no qualifications, no conditions. It simply says, “and the wife must respect her husband” (Ephesians 5:33). Not “if he deserves it,” or “if you feel like it,” or “if he loves you like he should.” In context, the previous clause instructs husbands to love their wives and the following clause instructs children to obey their parents. So you can see that I’m not leaving anything out here. It was a woman (Aretha Franklin) who demanded it: R-E-S-P-E-C-T, but it’s also a woman (well, Christ-following women—that’s us) who must show it.

A few things respect might mean:

  • Don’t interrupt him in the middle of a sentence.
  • Support his parenting decisions (even if you don’t 100% agree).
  • Give him space to be himself. So he likes ‘70s disco music? There’s nothing actually wrong with that.
  • Don’t praise another man too much. Short story: I recently met a new doctor that I immediately liked and respected. I knew I’d praised him too much when my husband (of nineteen years) said, “Good thing you didn’t meet him twenty years ago!”
  • Treat him like an adult, not like one of the kids. If he doesn’t usually do the laundry, don’t take the opportunity to correct him because he doesn’t do it “right.”
  1. Show Restraint

Sometimes, as wives and moms, we think we need to “vent” about something our husbands do…or don’t do. Nothing productive comes of venting. If I have a problem with my husband, I talk to him, not to my girlfriends. At most, I might share, “Bestie, I need to have a difficult conversation with husband tonight. Will you please pray for me?” There might come a time (after it’s resolved) to share this story in a God-honoring way, but most of the time, when we “vent” we’re just looking for someone to agree with us that we are completely right and the object of our venting (in this case, the husband) is completely wrong.

I’ve found it helpful to apply Philippians 4:8 here.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—[about my husband] think about such things.

If I take captive every thought (2 Corinthians 10:5) and keep my thoughts on the positive aspects of his character and life, my words will follow.

It goes back to respect. Showing restraint regarding my husband means I don’t tell belittling stories about him—even if they are funny. It means I don’t itemize his faults to others. It means I never talk to our children with phrases like, “If your father hadn’t…” or “Well, your father…”. I honor his reputation among our peers, in front of other women, and with our children.

  1. Show Recognition

In general, men love praise. But here’s something else: Children love for their fathers to be praised. So tell your children about something wonderful their father did in the past (or recently). Tell them what you like about him, what originally attracted you to him. If he catches you doing it, even better!

A few ways to recognize your husband’s character and actions:

  • Make a habit of showing appreciation for something he did and admiring the quality of it: “That is some nicely applied plumbers tape under the sink, honey. It looks like it’ll hold for a long time.” Sounds silly, I know, but try it. You’ll be surprised!
  • Acknowledge an effort to change/improve and comment on his hard work.
  • Praise qualities in your children that they inherited from their father. Things like, “You are so generous, just like Dad.”

As a Christ-following parent, you’ve probably quoted Ephesians 4:29 to your kids, but have you considered it in reference to your husband?

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

I know I want a strong, confident man. If offering a little extra praise is what it takes, that’s a small sacrifice to make. Maybe your husband doesn’t really need that. Still do it. Why? Because of who’s listening. Your children. When you praise their father, they benefit as well!

By taking time to recognize his contributions to your life and within your children, you’ll find it easier to dwell on the positive aspects of his character (showing restraint—#2) and respect him as a person (#1).

Don’t wait for Father’s Day to honor your children’s father! (click to tweet) These kinds of gifts come from “a wife of noble character” (Proverbs 30:10) and last through decades, not just days.


For Further Study: