Focus on the Family

Focus on the Family with Jim Daly

Teaching Good Manners to Your Kids (Part 1 of 2)

Teaching Good Manners to Your Kids (Part 1 of 2)

Author and speaker Donna Jones offers parents insights and practical advice for conquering the monumental task of instilling good manners in their children. (Part 1 of 2)



Donna Jones: I got down eyeball to eyeball to him and I said (Whispering), “Taylor Michael Jones, stop this. We are going home now.” And then my normally well-mannered, normally compliant child with all eyes watching spit in my face.

End of Teaser

John Fuller: Oh, that is a tough moment as a parent and maybe your child has never done something like that, but you want to teach them well. You want to have good boundaries. You want your child to learn good manners and we’ll help you do that and maybe avoid a spitting contest on today’s “Focus on the Family” with Focus president and author, Jim Daly.


Jim Daly: I can only imagine many of you listening right now are horrified at the thought of a child spitting in your face and some of you are probably saying, “Been there; done that.” In fact, I can remember I was on a trip and Jean called me, mortified because Trent, who’s now 15, back when he was probably 3 or 4, she was in the grocery line with him and Troy, who is a little younger and he threw a fit about a candy bar. And she said, “I was so embarrassed. A military, a uniformed military man came over and said, ‘Son, you need to listen to your mother.’”

And I was kinda grateful. I thought, yeah, that’s great for a guy to go over, especially in the uniform and sort Trent out a bit. I want to thank whoever that person was, but Jean was just mortified and today, we want to talk about that, when your kids need a little coaching on how to have better manners, how to do that and how to hopefully, get those results that you’re hoping for.

I think one of the great things is, this is a journey; it’s not a game that you’re gonna win today and you gotta stay in for the long haul. I can think of a thousand, maybe 5,000 times telling my boys, “You gotta say please and thank you.” And for some reason, up until recently, they often struggled to remember that, but it’s finally catching, but that’s the kind of example of stickin’ with it and don’t give up.

And today we’re gonna talk to a very special guest, a first-time guest here at Focus on the Family, Donna Jones, who has written a book, Raising Kids with Good Manners. I like the simplicity of that title. Donna, welcome to “Focus.”

Donna: Oh, thank you so much for having me.

Jim: Why did you have an interest in the area of manners? I mean, you could’ve been a rocket scientist (Laughter), why did you say, “I want to get up today and go teach manners?”

Donna: Right, well, part of that was because as a mom, I wanted to raise these kind of kids. I wanted to raise happy, healthy, well-adjusted kids and I understood that raising a child with good manners was part of that. And so, that became something I became interested–

Jim: Tell me—

Donna: –in.

Jim: –tell me; tell me about your kids.

Donna: Well, we have three kids. Taylor’s our son. Kylie and Ashton are our daughters. They’re now college age and early 20s and so, we’re kind of on the tail end of this parenting—

Jim: No, that’s good.

Donna: –this parenting.

Jim: Yeah.

Donna: So—

Jim: So, it’s proven.

Donna: –it’s proven. (Laughter)

Jim: Now let me ask you this. I’m gonna get you into some real big trouble here. Do you see a little gender difference when it comes to manners?

Donna: Yes and no. I see more of a temperament issue when it comes to manners.

Jim: And how does that play out?

Donna: Well, I think some kids, you know, they’re just a little more compliant and they’ll listen and do what you tell them to do and other kids are a little bit more obstinate and they want to do things their own way. (Laughter) And so, you know, it’s like anything else, it can be strong.

Jim: Now I’ve seen this in eating manners. We’ve got two boys and I’ve gotta say, I won’t point them out, but one of them is very good about keeping food off his face and in his mouth. The other one is a disaster when it comes to that. I don’t see how he misses that big hole in the front of his face, but somehow he can put all of this food on his cheeks, on his lips, on his chin and I’m sure some of it’s tricking in, but what in the world do I have to do? (Laughter)

Donna: Great question (Laughter). You know, and you bring up such a great point, because kids who are raised in the same family, you know, you would think that you’re instructing them the same way, but some children will get it right away and some children will take repetition over and over and over again.

And I loved what you said at the opening of the program, is that this is really something that you have to stick with over the long haul and understand, that’s just part of it, and not allow that to be a frustration as a parent.

Jim: How do manners predict future success? You’ve done some research—

Donna: Yes.

Jim: –in that area and—

Donna: Yes.

Jim: –you say there’s a connection.

Donna: There is–

Jim: That’s a little troubling.

Donna: –[a] huge connection, huge connection. You know, it’s interesting, because we as parents, we enroll our kids in sports’ activities. We get tutoring or you know, academic things for our children, all kinds of things to help develop our children, but studies are really clear that kids who have good manners are perceived better by their peers. They’re perceived better by adults. When they grow up, they have better relationships. They’re perceived better by their employers. They’re more successful in life. It really translates to every single area that will affect your child.

Jim: Well, let me ask the deeper question, what do manners reflect that are getting to the person’s heart?

Donna: Yeah.

Jim: What’s that connection?

Donna: Great question. You know, probably just the definition of manners is kind and considerate behavior. So, when you’re teaching your child good manners, you’re not just teaching table etiquette. You’re teaching them to be a kind and considerate person and that’s really the heart of the matter. So, that’s why it’s a process, but it’s a very doable process, because there are some specific things that you can do to put that into place.

Jim: Now you’ve taught this at department stores. I found that very intriguing, that department stores are willing to, you know, have you come and teach manners to customers’ children. How did that go?

Donna: Right, it went great. It went great. It was amazing the response, because I think people know, especially in our culture, that manners have gone by the wayside. And there’s a lack of respect in our culture. There’s a lack of just decorum, but I’m talking about basic things like you mentioned: please and thank you and excuse me and knowing how to eat properly.

I mean, so many of us were raised in homes where, you know, we kinda ate on the go and no one actually took the time to teach us, okay, now which is your salad fork? And (Laughter) where is your desert spoon? And then we go to formal events or corporate, we’re in a corporate situation and we don’t know what to do, because we never learned it as a child.

Jim: Right. Now John, do you have all this down?

John: I–

Jim: Start from the outside in.

John: –I will admit that as I teach these kinds of principles to my kids, these ideas of good manners, I am trying to tell them, you never know where you’ll be one day and you’ll think, “I don’t remember how to do this.” I’m trying to spare you the embarrassment of eating with a U.S. Senator of something like that (Laughter).

Jim: I’ll spare that. I won’t invite ya. (Laughter)

John: They’re generally not overly receptive though, it seems.

Jim: Yeah.

Donna: Right, well, you know, and that’s why you have to start where they are. So, you take your child at his point of reference and I really believe that teaching your child good manners should be fun and that is where I think a lot of parents, there’s a disconnect.

Jim: Well, okay, now you’re puttin’ a knife right through my heart. So often around our dinner table, it’s okay guys, do I gotta tell you for the 14th time, you know, make sure you cut that piece of meat? I don’t know why I’ve got carnivores and they like to eat large pieces of meat.

Donna: Well, you have boys.

Jim: So, I’m sayin, “Okay, guys. Cut that; stop. Cut that in half before you put it in your mouth.” And they’ll look at me like, “Dad, what a waste of time.”

Donna: Exactly, well you know, one of the things I learned when I was a young mom and it really, it really changed my perspective on parenting and it actually came out of a day where I had been really frustrated with my kids, because I felt like I was just saying the same thing over and over and over and it was one of those days where I just did nothing but discipline. And I thought, you’ve got to be kidding me. There has to be a better way.

So, I called the expert, my mother and I, (Laughter) you know, I kinda laid out the situation before her and she said something to me that changed my perspective in parenting. She said, “Honey, the trick to parenting is to stay one step ahead of your child.” So, what she meant by that was, you anticipate what’s coming next in their life and you’re prepared for it. So, you actually teach them and set them up for success before it actually happens.

Jim: Give me an example of how that worked in your own parenting.

Donna: Perfect, perfect example. Actually, I’ll tell you a story that happened just this week. (Laughter) I was talking with a mom who has elementary school age kids and she was trying to introduce her 9-year-old to me and the 9-year-old didn’t look me in the eye, didn’t really say hello. And you know, it didn’t bother me at all, but she confessed to me later that it was a little embarrassing to her.

Jim: Right.

Donna: And I said, “I totally get it, because my own kids have done the exact same thing.” In fact, I would be willing to be, every single one of your listeners have at least one child who’s done that.

Jim: And us, too.

Donna: Yep. (Laughter) You know, kids are kids and so, in that particular instance she said, “I didn’t know how to handle it. I didn’t know if I should pull him aside and say something. I didn’t want to be embarrassing to him, but, then I want him to understand how to properly meet someone.”

And it brought me back to something that I wrote about in Raising Kids with Good Manners and it’s how you teach manners without nagging.

Jim: Uh-huh.

Donna: And you become a proactive parent, so the first thing you do is, you rehearse whatever you would like your child to learn.

Jim: With your child.

Donna: You rehearse that with them. So, let’s take this—

Jim: Sure.

Donna: –as an illustration. So, yesterday let’s say she knew I was coming over. She could have [a talk] with her son say[ing], “Hey, we’re gonna have a guest over today, so I’m gonna be introducing you to her, so I just want you to smile, look her in the eye, say ‘It’s nice to meet you’ and that’s all you need to do.” And then you practice it. So, you set your child up for success. You anticipate what’s coming next. You stay one step ahead of your child and you rehearse it.

Jim: Hm.

Donna: Then, so rehearse is the first one, remind and this is where many, many parents, they get frustrated, because they think and I know I thought for many years, am I really supposed to remind them this much? (Laughter)

Jim: In one ear—

Donna: I think—

Jim: –out the other.

Donna: –shouldn’t they have gotten it by now? And the truth of the matter is, no, because they’re children and they’re in the process of learning. So, you remind your children and here’s the key, before the event. So, going back to this example, right before I walked in the door, she could’ve said, “Oh, she just pulled up. Now remember, what are you gonna do when I introduce you to her?” So, you remind before the circumstance.

Jim: Ah.

Donna: Now sometimes if you have a young child and they don’t do what you’ve rehearsed, you might really sweetly say to them, “Now what do you say?” You know, never a shaming, never embarrassing, but you’re just giving them a verbal prompt—

Jim: Right.

Donna: –a verbal reminder, so you rehearse it; then you remind it and then after the fact, you reinforce it. So, later on if your child has done something correctly, then you really make sure that you say, “Hey, I just want you to know, I was so proud of you when I introduced you to my friend and you looked her in the eye and you said it was nice to meet you. You did such a great job.” So, you want to reinforce it.

And then with an older child, you can reflect, which means, you just kinda talk about, how does it feel to do the right thing? You know, didn’t it raise your sense of confidence and make you feel good and those sorts of things.

Jim: In that context, the temperament, I would think, I’m thinking of my own boys, you know, one is more introverted, the other’s more extroverted and you could see that play out in those kind of introductions. You know, the one that’s a little shyer—

Donna: Yes, yes.

Jim: –I could see that it’s more difficult for him to engage that way. He’s good about shaking a hand, looking a person in the eye, because we’ve taught him to do that, but he’s less eager to enter into a conversation. He doesn’t have that kind of confidence—

Donna: Yes.

Jim: –yet.

Donna: Yes.

Jim: How do I work on that with him?

Donna: Great question. Well, you know, you always want to come at it from and especially with an older child or a teenager, how this is going to benefit them, because no child, an older child or a teenager, they’re just not gonna listen unless they understand how this is gonna benefit them.

Jim: Right.

Donna: So, you know, you say, “Hey, I, you know, I know you’re going into this situation and I want to just set you up for success.” And you just, you know, talk with them in that way. a really young child for some of your listeners who have maybe preschool-age children, you appeal to their need to want to be a big boy or a big girl. You know, big boys, they stay seated when they’re at restaurants. They don’t get up and walk around. Look at all the people. Everybody’s seated. You know, you appeal to their need to be a big kid.

Jim: Okay, John, so here we go. Do you—

John: I need to be a big kid, Jim.

Jim: –have you done this one before though? This is probably both moms and dads, but I’m guilty of this, to say to one of my boys, “You are acting like a 4-year-old right now.”

Donna: Ooh!

Jim: Have you ever done that?

John: I have (Laughter) and I’ve done that multiple times (Laughter) in this past month or so.

Jim: Because—

Donna: And all your—

Jim: -of that, you know–.

Donna: –listeners are nodding.

John: Yeah.

Donna: They have to.

Jim: –etiquette thing or something and you’re going, “Oh, my goodness, you’re 13. You should have this down.” That’s probably not the right way to go. (Laughter) Why don’t you correct me? What should a parent do in that situation, when the behavior, it’s well below where they should be?

Donna: Right.

Jim: And how do you point that out in a way that’s constructive?

Donna: Right, well, it really depends on the level of severity, right?

Jim: Right.

Donna: So, if it’s more severe in an older child, I would, you know, have a heart to heart with my child and say, “Hey, you know, by now we’ve talked about this enough. This is something that you probably should’ve mastered.”

But really what I found is, again you want to make learning manners fun and positive, so oftentimes we would use one-word prompts. So for instance, we had one of our kids who, like you, Jim, never chewed with her mouth closed.

Jim: Right. (Laughter) Boy, that makes me feel better.

Donna: I just taught you.

Jim: I’ve got one of those, too.

Donna: See, I think everybody does and no matter how much I told her, she just could not get it. It was just not a habit and so, we decided we would have a one-signal prompt, so I would simply take my finger and place it on my lips without anybody really noticing and that would be her signal, you’re chewing with your mouth open.

Jim: Oh, that’s good.

Donna: Now another child never used their napkin, so I would just say, “Napkin,” one-word prompt and then we just moved on and had a nice meal together.

John: So, Jim, a one-word prompt is all we need. (Laughter)

Jim: All these years.

John: Oh, I appreciate Donna.

Donna: One-word prompt for 18 years.

John: Yeah.

Jim: My chewin’ with the mouth open has been a Pac-Man kind of (Laughter) gesture with my hand, which probably isn’t effective either.

John: All right, so keep it fun and we’ll have some age-appropriate markers for your child, if you’ve got a toddler or an elementary school child, coming up here in just a moment on today’s “Focus on the Family.” Our guest is Donna Jones and her book, Raising Kids with Good Manners, is available, along with the CD or a download of this program at

And Donna, how about this? I’m thinking, okay, my kids do exhibit good manners, oftentimes outside of the home, but in the home, it feels like there’s permission to just not be so nice to people, not have such good etiquette. What’s that about?

Donna: Yes, oh, my goodness. I can tell you every one of your listeners are nodding their head right now or everyone who has tried to teach their children good manners—

John: Yeah.

Donna: –is nodding their head, because you know, home is a place, obviously, where things are a little bit more relaxed, but also we as parents sometimes can let some things go. And oftentimes, it’s not as much about our children as it is about us and the way we’re parenting in the home.

Now the most interesting thing is, the most popular chapter in Raising Kids with Good Manners,when I speak on this topic is a chapter called “How to Raise a Brat.” And the reason (Laughter) it’s the most popular is because I discuss some very common parenting styles that even good parents use that are ineffective.

And these parenting styles when they’re used, they inadvertently cause kids to become disrespectful rather than respectful. And so, what happens sometimes is, even good parents are using these parenting styles in the home and it’s defeating the purpose.

Jim: Well, give us some examples (Laughter) of the things John and I are currently doing.

John: Yeah, yeah. (Laughter) This is really an intervention program, Jim.

Jim: It’s a bit of [that].

John: This is all about us somehow.

Donna: Well, the first and most common one is called the repeating parent.

Jim: Okay.

Donna: So, the repeating parent, it works like this. You give your child some sort of instruction. It might be, you need to take out the trash. Did you take out the trash? Tommy, did you take out the trash? Don, don’t forget, you need to take out the trash. Tommy, you need to take out the trash. Tommy, how many times am I gonna tell [you]? Okay, you know what? Get up right now and take out the trash, one, two, 2 1/2. Right, okay.

Jim: Two and three quarters.

Donna: Two and three quarters and then at three, they finally do it.

Jim: Right.

Donna: Well, why do they do it at three and not right when we told them? We’ve trained them that way. See, we’ve been repeating parents and here is the feeling that’s most closely associated with being a repeating parent—frustration. It’s the feeling of frustration. We think, “I didn’t think it was gonna be this hard. Why don’t they just do what I’m asking them to do the first time?” But if we go back and we look at our own parenting style, we’re a repeating parent.

Jim: Well, let me ask you this. Have we trained them or they’ve trained us?

Donna: Probably a little bit of both.

Jim: Because in some cases I’m thinking, you get the frustrated parent who is saying, “Take out the trash” and the kid is not responding and so, now what should they do that first time, in the first two or three times to make sure the child knows to act when they are asked to do something?

Donna: Great question. We taught our kids to become “okay kids,” which means that when I gave them an instruction, I told ’em, “Listen, I’m telling you something because I expect you to do it. So, I want you to say, ‘Okay, mom,’ which just means that you’ve, No. 1 heard me and that you realize, I expect you to do it.”

Jim: Let me ask you the spiritual context of this, ’cause we haven’t really talked about that. Does God care about manners?

Donna: Oh, absolutely and I’ll tell you why, because Jesus Himself says we’re to treat other people like we want to be treated.

Jim: The Golden Rule.

Donna: The Golden Rule and that really is the foundation of manners.

Jim: I never thought about it in that context, but that’s what my mom used to say to us. That’s what got me, hopefully, on the right side of the tracks when it came to manners. She would always say that.

Donna: That’s right.

Jim: Treat others the way you want to be treated. I probably heard that 1,000 times.

Donna: And you know what? She was right and really you know, sometimes we tend to think of manners as something that we just use for special occasions, but when you really nutshell it down to the fact that it’s treating other people like you want to be treated, then you start to see the importance of why it should be used in the home and how vital it is in raising a happy, healthy, well-adjusted child who loves God and loves other people.

Jim: Ah, you listed kind of the behavior stages when your kids are at a certain age. This is something, if we can have your permission to do it, I’d love to post this on the website, John and people could go to it. You’ve kinds listed the behaviors that are right for that age and stage.

For example, toddler years, ages 1 to 3, you’re saying they should begin to learn conversation skills, say please and thank you, follow simple instructions and you have a list of other things there, as well. And then you go to preschool years of 3 to 5. What are a couple there that you mention?

Donna: Well, during this period you can teach children to meet and greet others properly. At this point you’re gonna improve their table manners–

Jim: Good point.

Donna: –begin to improve their table manners. They’re gonna be developing friendships, so that’s gonna be an important topic and then learn party manners. At this point they start going to birthday parties and then that becomes an important topic of conversation.

Jim: And then you go to 6 and 12. There’s one in here that I found really interesting and I think temperament plays into this. You say at this age, they can improve and refine table manners. We have table through the whole thing here.

Donna: Yes, you do.

Jim: It’s kinda funny. Learn good sportsmanship, develop friendship and social skills. This is ages 6 to 12. And this is the one, make and receive phone calls competently. You know, it’s so funny. My younger son was really desirous of answering the phone. Still is. He’s the first one to the phone, ’cause he wants to answer it. “Hello, Daly’s residence” or something like that.

Donna: Yes.

Jim: He has even concocted a line that was very professional. My older son again, a little more shy, never wants to answer the phone. I mean, he’s like, the last thing he would want to do is answer a phone, because on the other end there’s gonna be a stranger and “That—

Donna: Yeah and he—

Jim: –freaks me out.”

Donna: –has to talk to him, right.

Jim: How do you play that out? How do you say, okay, be more comfortable with it. Let your younger brother teach you how to do it. I mean, what can I do to kind of get some parity there?

Donna: Yes, great question. Well, again, it goes back to rehearsing, reminding, reinforcing and reflecting. So, particularly with a child where they have a skill that’s difficult for them, you want to rehearse it with them. And again you want to communicate, “Hey, I’m trying to set you up for success.”

And so, you just role play it; you just rehearse it. Here’s what you say. Here’s probably what they’ll say. This is how you’ll respond and so, it’s very clear in their mind what they’re supposed to do.

Jim: Let me ask you this. In the book, which is kind of a[n] oxymoron, in your book, Raising Kids with Good Manners, you mention your awareness going up manyfold, because your 6-year-old at the time—

Donna: Yes.

Jim: –did something to you that was unbelievable. Talk about it.

Donna: Yes and I still have a hard time wrapping my mind around this particular instance. When Taylor, our son, was 6, Kylie was 3 and Ashton was a baby. We went to the park and it was one of those really great park days. And as every mom knows, when you’re having a really great park day, sometimes you stay a little bit longer than you probably should–

Jim: For sanity’s sake.

Donna: –for sanity’s sake. So, I was there with a group of my friends and it was just a wonderful day, but then the afternoon was wearing on and it was time to go home. So, I gave my kids the infamous five-minute warning that every parent has used. “Okay, kids, five more minutes and it’ll be time to go.” “All right, kids, two more minutes and it’ll be time to go.” And finally it was time to go.

So, I said, “Okay, kids, grab your sand toys. Time to go.” Well, my kids ignored me and I was a little embarrassed because I was there with all of my friends who are watching our scenario, but I chalked it up to the fact that they were having a really good time.

So, with my newborn in my arm, I walked over to my two older and I said, “Okay, kids, time to go.” Well, my 3-year-old grabbed my hand, but my 6-year-old was another story. First began the whining. “Why do we have to go? We’re the first ones to go. Mom, why?” “Taylor, it’s time to go.”

Well, when the whining didn’t work, the crying started. “But mom, you don’t understand. Please don’t make us go. We haven’t been to the park.” “Taylor, it’s time to go.” Then the negotiation started. “Five more minutes, mom. Five more minutes. I promise; I promise; I promise if you will just give me five more minutes, I will go.” “Taylor, get your stuff and it’s time to go.”

Well, when the whining and the crying and the negotiating didn’t work, a full-blown temper tantrum ensued. Now it’s one thing to have a 2-year-old have a temper tantrum, but let me tell you, it is a whole different level when a 6-year-old is pitching a temper tantrum.

So, he pitched this huge temper tantrum. At one point, he stomped his foot and said, “I don’t want to go.” Well, I was becoming slowly aware that every single mom at the park had stopped her conversation and every eye was on out little scenario. So, I thought, I have got to get control of a bad situation that’s quickly getting worse.

I got down eyeball to eyeball to him and I said, “Taylor Michael Jones, stop this. We are going home now.” And then my normally well-mannered, normally compliant child with all eyes watching spit in my face.

Jim: Ooh.

Donna: And I thought, the “Twilight Zone” theme was going to start playing (Laughter) in the background.

John: Really, do, doom, do, do.

Donna: I just thought, I cannot believe this is happening and I, to this day how I got a sand toy, a newborn, a 3-year-old, the 6-year-old, a stroller, you know, to the car. I really don’t know. I just willed my[self]; I swore I didn’t want to see the faces of my friends and the strangers.

But I do remember this, I got to the car. I buckled everyone in their car seat. I was so distraught by what had happened, I literally could not start the ignition. I put my hands on the steering wheel and they were shaking and I saw there and I said, “Lord, am I the worst mother that has ever lived?” I felt completely defeated.

Jim: And you know, that’s completely normal though.

Donna: Uh-hm.

Jim: I think most moms, if not every mom has had a moment like that. Jean’s was at the grocery store with our oldest—

Donna: Yes.

Jim: –and it’s just something that happens. Donna, we have covered a lot of ground, but I would like to keep goin’ and come back next time and talk about some other parenting tools that we can use as the kids are growing older, to make sure that we’ve done the best job possible to help them understand the Golden Rule, that Jesus encouraged us to believe in and I think indirectly, encouraged us to teach our children. Can you do that?

Donna: Love to.


And in the meantime, Donna’s book, Raising Kids with Good Manners is available at our website. It really is practical. It’s gonna equip you to te

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