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Daily LivingManners and Greetings

Is Your Child Displaying Bad Manners in Public?

Girl smiling and holding her hands together.
Marcy Willard
Marcy Willard
Ph.D., NCSP
Last modified 18 May 2022
Published 21 Apr 2022

What are Manners and Greetings in Childhood?

Manners and greetings in childhood are socially appropriate behaviors that are learned from caregivers or members of the community.

For example, manners include polite comments like, “nice to meet you” or “thank you for having me.” Manners also include stepping aside to allow people to pass you in the hallway or come out of a crowded elevator. Children learn manners throughout their lives, and these skills are important for socialization and participation in the community. 

Symptoms of Lack of Manners and Greetings in Children

  • Acts impulsively without concern for others: your child acts without recognizing what is appropriate for the social setting, such as behaving as they would at home, while in the classroom
  • Says hurtful things that hurt others’ feelings or are inappropriate: your child may say something like, “Why does that man have on such a weird shirt?” without noticing the comment is hurtful
  • Overly friendly: your child may go up to a stranger at a zoo and start sharing all the facts they know about a particular animal
  • Lacking appropriate manners for social situations and community outings: your child burps in public, asks inappropriate questions, and shares details with strangers that make everyone feel awkward
  • Picks nose in public or chews with mouth open: your child is unaware of how others perceive these behaviors as unpleasant
  • Running and screaming through a store: your child is not aware that it is not appropriate to run and scream in public places

Causes of Lack of Manners and Greetings in Childhood

The manners expected of a child vary significantly by age. 

Children are not born knowing to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’ Instead, we find that some children have easy-going temperaments, follow the rules and quickly recognize what is and is not appropriate behavior. 

Other children are louder, more active, and more boisterous, and it can be challenging to teach manners to as a parent. These children throw caution to the wind and may not try to understand the rules and expectations for them.

Other Causes of Lack of Manners and Greeting in Childhood 

Low adaptive skills: some children struggle with many functional behaviors like: daily living skills, self-care, community living, academics, domestic skills, communication, socialization, coping skills, and motor development

Impulsivity: some children are impulsive and are simply not thinking before acting. Words and actions come right out without passing through the brain to screen for appropriateness. 

Emotion regulation: some children who struggle to regulate their emotions often have issues with impulsivity. When it is hard for a child to regulate their emotions, they may not stop and think about how their words or actions affect another person. 

Hyperactivity: some children have exacerbated challenges beyond impulsivity and emotional dysregulation. When a child constantly moves, lacks impulse control, and has difficulty managing feelings, rude things happen. For example, a child may yell or invade personal space without noticing. 

Unawareness of social norms or others’ expectations and immaturity: some children are developing more slowly than peers their age. This can be especially challenging if the child appears to be much older than they are. The expectation for mature behavior and good manners is there, yet some children have not matured to that point.

Parents of super tall 3-year-olds describe that other parents at the playground mistake their child for a 5-year-old and are unhappy with the pushing and shoving that is happening in the sandbox or in line for the slide.

When children are not as mature as others, they are less aware of social appropriateness and are less capable of acting with the patience and thoughtfulness expected of them. 

Challenges with perspective-taking or understanding: some children struggle to understand social norms because they have difficulty with perspective-taking or understanding what those around them are thinking or feeling.

Autism spectrum disorders: some children with ASD struggle significantly with understanding social norms and manners. This difficulty can explain how very bright children with autism begin to look a bit different from peers as social expectations, like manners and coping skills, become more advanced.

What to Do About Manners and Greetings  in Childhood

  • Talk about manners and greetings: read stories and books about manners and greetings with your child. Then, when you see good manners and greetings in public, point it out to your child and say, “did you notice that?” Then, talk through with your child about how people feel when appropriate and inappropriate manners and greetings are being used.
  • Teach “stop and think.”: teach your child to stop and review words and actions before just going for it. This strategy is hard to teach, but your child can make these improvements with support and practice. For example, some classroom teachers have an actual traffic light they use to teach children expected behaviors for certain situations throughout the day.
  • Work with your child to determine “manners” and rules for various settings: create a chart of rules and manners expected at home, school, and in public. Then, work with your child on earning rewards for exhibiting this good behavior.
  • Use natural consequences: The term ‘natural consequence’ means that a certain (often negative) event naturally follows after a certain behavior. For example, if you scream and run in a restaurant as an adult, you are asked to leave. Thus, it makes sense that if your child is acting inappropriately, the outing should end.
  • Set up for success: In order to continue doing fun things, certain manners should be expected. For example, if you know your child cannot do the library on a day with no nap, don’t do it. If your child will be calmer after walking to school to burn energy, plan to walk when you can instead of driving to school.
  • Social skills group: To work on appropriate behaviors, a group may be an excellent idea for your child. Social skills groups can be a place to practice good manners and social skills and perhaps earn praise and rewards for demonstrating these behaviors.
  • Praise your child’s success: As with most behavior change, the most important thing is to ‘catch them being good.’ Praise their accomplishments. This approach will help build self-esteem and confidence. Children who feel successful tend to do better across the board. 

In my own experience as a parent, I would allow my children to earn a ‘tally’ on a chart every time we witnessed a display of good manners. For example, if my son would say, “May I please have ___” when ordering food at a restaurant, he would earn a tally.

Those tallies could be exchanged for prizes on the weekend. Even better, when we were out as a family, if a stranger noticed my kids’ good manners, we would make a big deal out of that with praise and extra tallies. For our family, this was quite effective in teaching manners. – Dr. Willard

When to Seek Help for Manners and Greetings in Childhood 

Even with direct teaching about manners and greetings, if your child is struggling to understand or cannot understand social appropriateness in the correct settings, it may be beneficial to seek help from a licensed professional to see if there is an underlying cause. 

Some children will continue to struggle with manners and greetings, even with a lot of support from caregivers. On the other hand, it may be that attention issues, impulsivity, or other neurological issues underlie your child’s challenges. In that case, a list of professionals who can help is provided below.

Professional Resources for Manners and Greetings in Childhood 

If your child is struggling with this symptom to the point that it is getting in the way of their learning, relationships, or happiness, the following professionals could help. They may offer diagnosis, treatment, or both.

  • ABA therapist: to treat behavior; can increase adaptive skills and communication, and appropriate behaviors. In-home treatment plans make addressing self-care and domestic skills easier. 
  • Psychologist or neuropsychologist: to conduct a full assessment and examine symptoms in a mental or behavioral health context
  • Psychotherapist or play therapist: to treat emotional symptoms as needed; to work on social skills via a social skills group or behavioral therapy intervention
  • OT or speech pathologist: to treat motor or language deficits that may be involved in learning appropriate manners and greetings. 

Similar Conditions to Manners and Greetings in Childhood

If your child is struggling with a similar problem not directly addressed in this section, see the list below for information about other related symptom areas.

  • Social skills: trouble with socially interacting with others impacts adaptive skills within the socialization domain including manners and greetings. Vygotsky’s social learning theory suggests that social interaction underlies typical learning and development. Children learn from engaging with one another. Children who watch other children and mirror their behavior are more aware of coping skills appropriate for different situations
  • Communication: trouble with communication impacts a child’s ability to express their wants and needs, to develop conversation skills, and to engage reciprocally with peers. If a child struggles to communicate, frustration can increase, which can impact manners and greetings
  • Intelligence: trouble with thinking and reasoning can cause various delays that would encompass areas like communication, daily living skills, socialization, and motor development. A child with cognitive delays may also struggle with coping skills, manners, and understanding what is appropriate in social interactions
  • Motor challenges: trouble with motor skills can be a component of adaptive skills like manners. Children with motor impairments may be messy eaters and may struggle to carry out routines that other children do more easily
  • Inattention: trouble paying attention can cause poor manners. Perhaps this child was not paying attention to the routines as they were being taught, like how to sit at the table during mealtime, how to modulate tone of voice, and how to act in various settings 

Resources for Manners and Greetings in Childhood 

Cook, Julia (2012). Personal space camp. 

Cook, Julia (2006). My mouth is a volcano. 

Cook, Julia (2015). But it’s not my fault. 

Cook, Julia (2016). That rule doesn’t apply to me. 

Esham, Barbara (2015). Mrs. Gorski, I think I have the wiggle fidgets. (New edition) (Adventures of everyday geniuses.) 

Smith, Bryan & Griffen, Lisa M. (2016). What were you thinking? Learning to control your impulses (Executive function). 

Berns, Roberta M. (2010). Child, family, school, community: Socialization and support.  

Kroncke, Willard, & Huckabee (2016). Assessment of autism spectrum disorder: Critical issues in clinical forensic and school settings. 

Clarke-Fields, Hunter (2019). Raising good humans: A mindful guide to breaking the cycle of reactive parenting and raising kind, confident kids

Espeland, Pamela (2007). Dude, that’s rude: Get some manners. 

Verdick, Elizabeth (2010). Don’t behave like you live in a cave. 

Dewdney, Anna (2012). Llama, Llama time to share. 

Javernick, Ellen (2012). What if everybody did that? 

Javernick, Ellen (2018). What if everybody said that? 

Javernick, Ellen (2019). What if everybody thought that? 

Furnival, Christina (2021). The not-so-friendly friend: How to set boundaries for healthy friendships. 

McIntyre, Thomas (2013). Kids with behavior challenges: The survival guide on how to make good choices and stay out of trouble. 

Sterling, Lindsey (2020). The social survival guide for teens on the autism spectrum: How to make friends and navigate your emotions.
Crist, James J. (2014). The survival guide for making and being friends. 

Packer, Alex (2014). How rude! The teen guide to good manners, proper behavior, and not grossing people out. 

Newman, Catherine (2020). How to be a person: 65 hugely useful, super important skills to lean before you’re grown up. 

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