Focus on the Family

Focus on the Family with Jim Daly

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

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



Donna Jones: 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.

End of Teaser

John Fuller: Insights from our guest on the last “Focus on the Family” radio program, from author and etiquette expert Donna Jones and she’s back with us today to share more about the importance of good manners. I’m John Fuller and your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly

Jim Daly: John, were you making mental notes last time? (Laughter) I mean, I’m thinkin’, okay, I can’t wait to get home and talk with Jean and it’s just good stuff. It’s basic stuff, but these are the things that we as parents, we worry about, because we’re not sure if our 3- to 5-year-old is catching it or maybe our 7- to 9-year-olds are catching it or maybe our 16- to 18-year-olds are catching. Very practical advice on things you can do last time, so if you didn’t get a chance to hear the broadcast, go get the download at the website or order the CD, because it was well worth it and we’re gonna continue that discussion today.

John: And certainly in addition, get Donna’s book, Raising Kids with Good Manners, all of this available at or when you call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY.


Jim: Donna, last time you gave us, like I said, some real practical advice and we looked at age and stage and some of those attributes that your children should be capable of doing and if again, you didn’t hear it, that’s been posted at the website so you can go to the website and take a look at your child’s age and some of those behaviors that they should be starting now to display and be grasping. I thought that was very helpful and I promise I won’t say to my 13-year-old, you’re actin’ like a 4-year-old (Laughter), although it’s tempting at as a parent who’s frustrated.

Donna: Right.

Jim: We left off last time. You were talking very vulnerably about your little one at the time, your three children. You oldest at that time was 6 and 3 and your infant. They’re now in their 20s, so these are well-proven models, but your 6-year-old had just spit in your face.

Donna: Yes.

Jim: And you went back to your car shaking, thinking I’m the worst mom in the world. Talk about [it] (Laughing), ’cause your son, we need to pay him the right credit and due here. He did come around and—

Donna: He did.

Jim: –and tell the end of that story which happened a couple of years later.

Donna: Well, interestingly, it was several years later. It was mid-morning. I was unloading my dishwasher at home. I received a phone call and it was my son, Taylor’s 8th-grade history teacher. And I was a little surprised. You don’t usually get phone calls in the middle of the morning from a teacher, but he went on to explain that he was on his break. He was grading papers and that most of the kids had received poor grades.

And I thought, oh, dear. You know, I thought this was gonna be (Laughter) horrible news. And he said, “But you know, when I got to Taylor’s paper, he actually got a 100 percent.” And at this point, my heart is—

Jim: You’re beaming.

Donna: –yes, I’m beaming. I’m feeling like, oh, this is surely the reason for his call. But he said, “No, no, no, no, Mrs. Jones, that’s not why I’m calling.” He said, “You see, when I came to a student who actually did well on the test, I needed a little personal encouragement, so I left his paper on the top and as I looked at his paper, I started focusing on his name—Taylor Jones.”

And he said, “And then I started thinking about Taylor Jones and I thought, you know, he’s really a great kid. And then he said, “Mrs. Jones, then my thoughts turned toward Taylor’s mom and I thought, I wonder if Taylor’s mom knows what a great job she’s done raising her child.” And he said, “So, Mrs. Jones, the only reason for this phone call is to say, thank you for raising a great person.”

Jim: And you exhaled at that point. (Laughter)

Donna: Oh, my goodness. (Laughter) It was about the last thing I thought I was going to hear and you know, Jim, I took a deep breath and I remember just looking up and saying, “There’s hope.” (Laughter)

Jim: Exactly.

Donna: There’s hope, because all of our children occasionally do things that we literally cannot believe they’ve done—

Jim: Right.

Donna: –whether they’re 6 or they’re 16 or they’re 26.

Jim: You’re makin’ progress. I mean, you went from him spitting in your face at 6-years-old to the teacher bragging about how well he’s doing.

Donna: Yes.

Jim: I mean, that’s what you want to see as a parent.

Donna: That is what you want to see.

Jim: I know our Trent, our oldest, I remember he stayed the night at someone’s house a couple of years back and the mom called my wife, Jean and said, “Boy, your son was just so incredible. I mean, after dinner he picked up the dishes at our house and he washed them in the sink for everybody without being asked to do anything.” (Laughing) And now Jean was like, “That was our son?” (Laughter) But it shows you that it is catching. Now they may not always display that. They may not do it in your own home, which you know, you gotta continue to work on that—

Donna: Right.

Jim: –but why sometimes is there that disconnect, that when they’re in that setting, it seems to be working, like at school with your son or like a sleepover with my son—

Donna: Right.

Jim: –but at home, maybe they’re not still hitting it the way you’d like them to do it as a parent? What can you do to help them think about it at home, as well as at their friend’s house?

Donna: Right, well, one of the things is to expect it at home. And but I want to go back to what you said. That’s actually good news and bad news.

Jim: Right. (Laughter)

Donna: You know, it does mean that as a parent, that our children are listening to more than we actually think they’re listening to.

Jim: Right, that’s the good news.

Donna: That’s the good news. You know, the bad news is, that sometimes they don’t implement it with their brothers and sisters and in our homes. And part of that is just because it’s a more relaxed place and we kinda end up letting things slide. Sometimes we get tired as parents. Sometimes we get lazy. Sometimes we’re inconsistent. And you know, kids read that and so, when they know that about us, they will fall to the path of least resistance and—

Jim: Right.

Donna: –so, some of those behaviors end up being less than ideal in our own home.

Jim: You in the book, Raising Kids with Good Manners, you talk about two facts or two things that are important to remember. What are they?

Donna: Well, the first one is that children are a work in progress and so, it takes time for them to really to develop a character that we want them to develop, which brings me to the second principle and that’s good parents parent.

Jim: No, you can’t give up.

Donna: You cannot give up. Good parents parent. Now this was a lesson I learned actually through a friend. We have friends; Rex and Andrea are their names and they had taken their daughter to a parenting class. She was 2-years-old at the time. They wouldn’t have normally taken [one so young].

Jim: Two?!

Donna: Well, they wouldn’t have taken her. She was a little sick, so they couldn’t leave her at home with a babysitter or put her in childcare. It was only an hour long. They brought crayons and some things to occupy her and they thought, “Well, you know, let’s just go. We’ll sit in the back and we think this will work out.”

Well, their daughter was unruly. She was wiggly and so, at one point, Rex had to take her out, calmed her down, brought her back in. She was wiggly and unruly again. He took her out a second time.

And on the way home, my friend, Andrea remarked to Rex, “How embarrassing was that? Here we were in a class on of all things, parenting and our child was a nightmare.” And Rex said something to Andrea that literally when I heard it, it changed my whole perspective on parenting. He said, “Andrea, we should never be embarrassed that our child misbehaves. We should only be embarrassed if we fail to deal with misbehavior.”

And I will tell you, when I heard that, it was like something clicked in my mind, because we have to expect that our children are going to misbehave and that’s no reflection on us. Children are a work in progress. They’re just kids. But knowing that, good parents parent. They don’t fail to deal with the misbehavior.

Jim: Let me ask you this, because so often we see it in the grocery store, the infamous grocery store scene.

Donna: Uh-hm.

Jim: And it’s really interesting, ’cause depending upon who’s around the mom typically, sometimes dad, but typically mom with the toddler who’s throwing the fit, you see the older women and the look on their face is, “Oh, my goodness. If that woman only knew how to parent that child.” And some of the guys are saying, “I could parent that child right now. Let me just spank that kid.” You know you—

Donna: Right, right.

Jim: –could immediately—

Donna: Yes.

Jim: –I’m just saying they’re all the expressions that you see on the face.

Donna: Yes, yes.

Jim: Let me ask you in that context, you had it at the park with—

Donna: Yes.

Jim: –your 6-year-old at the time spitting in your face, what can a mom do in that moment in the grocery store when it’s just utterly out of control? What can a bystander do who wants to help, if it’s at that level? And there are times when it’s so out of control that a little help the mom would appreciate. Play those two roles out and what can we do to do a better job in that moment, teaching that child—

Donna: Right.

Jim: –how to live?

Donna: Boy, great question, because there is not a parent on the face of the earth that has not been in that circumstance. So, I would say to the mom who’s in that circumstance, first go back to never be embarrassed that your child misbehaves. Only be embarrassed if you fail to deal with the misbehavior.

Jim: That embarrassment right at that moment could ratchet up your frustration—

Donna: Yes.

Jim: –and it will be more harmful to the child and that’s the reason not to ratchet that up.

Donna: That’s exactly right, because then you become a reactive parent, so you’re reacting rather than being proactive in dealing with the circumstance.

Jim: Donna, what would be the proactive approach in that grocery store? What’s the proactive way for the mom to deal with that?

Donna: Right, probably picking your child up and just simply taking your child out of the store and realizing no matter what anybody else is thinking, that it’s your responsibility to train this child. So, you merely just pick them up; take them out of the store. Put them in the car. Maybe it’s time to go home.

But next time you use this as a learning opportunity, because you see, oftentimes I used to get really frustrated when my children would disobey.

Jim: And that’s normal.

Donna: Yes, because I would think of it as somehow as a failure on my part. Well, what I learned is that, when a child disobeys, really it’s a teachable moment. You’ve actually been given a gift. Now it’s a gift in disguise (Laughing).

Jim: Yeah.

Donna: It’s definitely a gift in disguise, but if you can make that shift in your mind, where you look at your child’s disobedience as not something to be dreaded, but as something as a teachable moment, boy, it can really change perspective and give you a whole new lease on parenting.

Jim: That does take an awful lot of patience though.

Donna: Yes.

Jim: And you know, so often with parenting, it’s one of the shortcomings that most of us parents have. We don’t see the long-term benefit. We don’t have the patience to step back emotionally from it and deal with it calmly.

Donna: Right.

Jim: Do you use any trigger things at that moment? Is there anything that helps the adult step back? I mean, when you’re ratcheting up your frustration, your embarrassment, do you say, “Okay, well, wait a minute. I gotta do somethin’ here to get down to a good—

Donna: Yes.

Jim: –emotional level?”

Donna: Yes, because–

Jim: What do you do?

Donna: –well, because here’s what happens. We get hooked by their behavior.

Jim: Oh, yeah.

Donna: I mean, we just do and so, I think, just saying to yourself, don’t let yourself get hooked and this happens, this is helpful whether your child is 2 or 12 or 22. Don’t let yourself get hooked. Don’t let yourself get hooked. Don’t let yourself get hooked.

Jim: And what do you do though? Is it backing up? Is it taking a deep breath? I mean, when that’s rising in you, you feel that adrenaline coming up, how do you shut that tap off?

Donna: Well, great questions and I think it depends on the situation. I think it depends on the severity of the situation. Sometimes it’s good to take a deep breath, to step back, but even just to say to yourself, this is a teachable moment. Just actually say that in your mind. This is a teachable moment.

Jim: And it’s important and obviously, it’s a moment to say, never kind of act out physically with that child. Don’t in your—

Donna: Exactly.

Jim: –height of anger or frustration, that is not the right time to discipline with a spank or something like that. Calm down before you administer any kind of discipline.

Donna: Right, oh, absolutely, because the whole goal of parenting is to train and to teach your child to be a kind and considerate person. So, it’s not necessarily about punishment. It’s about training. Now of course, there is a role where negative reinforcement comes in, as well as positive reinforcement. But you’re training your child to be a certain kind of person, a kind and considerate person.

John: Well, that’s a good reminder and we’ve got more ideas coming up from Donna Jones, as we continue the conversation on “Focus on the Family.” Your host is Jim Daly. I’m John Fuller and you can get a CD or a download of this two-part program as well as Donna’s book, Raising Kids with Good Manners when you swing by or we can tell you more when you call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY.

Jim: Donna, often we talk about love and respect in the context of marriage. But you talk about love and respect in terms of a parenting-child relationship and what you’re trying to teach children. Talk about it.

Donna: Yes, you know, there’s so many books and tips on parenting that it can be overwhelming. You know, the 10 things I must do to be a great parent. The 15 things I must avoid to be a great parent. And who can remember all those things in the midst of parenting?

What I’ve come to realize is, that really you can nutshell it down to these two things. If you will focus on just two things in your home—creating an environment of love and creating an environment of respect—you are 95 percent home.

Jim: Wow.

Donna: It really does come down to creating an environment of love and creating an environment of respect.

Jim: When you look at that respect side, hopefully the love side comes easily, I mean—

Donna: Yes, but—

Jim: –in our homes.

Donna:–you know, what’s interesting about this, John. A number of years ago, I was flying back to the Midwest to speak to a large parenting conference, was seated next to a gentleman. We talked almost the entire flight or I should say, he talked (Laughter) almost the entire flight.

Jim: Oh, no.

Donna: He was fascinating; he was a surgeon, fascinating life. About 15 minutes before we were to land, he turned and looked at me and he said, “Oh, my goodness, I haven’t even asked you a thing about yourself. Tell me about you.” And I said, “Well, I’m a speaker and I’m an author and I’m headed to speak at this conference.”

And he said, “Well, what are you gonna speak on?” And I said, “Well, I’m gonna be speaking on raising kids with good manners.” And he said, “Well, in a nutshell, what are you gonna say?” Well, I only had a few moments, so I said, “Well, basically it all comes down to love and respect.” And he looked at me and he said, “Oh, oh, you better stop right there.”

And I said, “Excuse me.” And he said, “That’s what you’re gonna tell ’em.” And I said, “Well, in a nutshell.” And he said, “Well, you better think of somethin’ better than that.” (Laughter) And I said, “Well, what do you mean?” He said, “Well, everybody knows that love is part of raising a child.”

And I said, “Well, wait, wait, wait. Before you so easily discount that, let me ask you a question. If you were to poll parents in America and you were to ask them, do you love your child, what percentage do you think would say, ‘Yes?’”

And he said, “Well, I don’t know, like 100 percent?” And I said, “Yeah, I think you’re right; 100 percent of parents would say, ‘I love my child.’ But if you were to poll children in America and you were to say, ‘Do you feel loved by your parents?’, what percentage would say, ‘Yes?’”

And he paused and he said, “I get your point. I get your point.” Because all of us love our children, but the question we have to ask ourselves is, “Does my child feel loved by me?” That’s what I’m talkin’ about when I write about creating this environment of love in your home.

Jim: Donna, talk to that parent who has love and the child knows that they’re loved—

Donna: Uh-hm.

Jim: –but the respect side has been difficult. And perhaps they exhibit it well outside of the home, but with the siblings or—

Donna: Yes.

Jim: –with you know, one or both of the parents, they struggle to understand the respect side, for whatever reason. What tools can you provide to say, okay, here’s how you dig into respect—

Donna: Yes.

Jim: –teaching your 8-year-old, your 12-year-old, your 15-year-old—

Donna: Yes.

Jim: –how to respect better?

Donna: And I think that this is the single most absent characteristic in children today—

Jim: Uh-hm.

Donna: –is respect.

Jim: I think that’s why we have so much conflict with authority.

Donna: Yes.

Jim: When you look at the police issue, it’s just there. You’ve got to be able to respect authority and kids aren’t being taught how to do that.

Donna: No, no and it’s really important that we as parents teach them. Now it’s interesting. The definition of respect is to listen to, to be heeded or to be held in high regard. So, when we teach our children to listen to us, to heed us, to hold us in high regard, we are actually teaching our child to be a respectful person.

Jim: Huh.

Donna: On the other hand, if we’re using parenting methods where we’re teaching our children not to listen to us, not to heed us or not to hold us in a high regard, we’re accidentally teaching our children to be disrespectful. Now we don’t mean to do that, but that’s in fact, what’s happening.

Jim: You know, in thinking of that emotional response, I’m thinking of the dad that struggled, that you know, maybe has been so busy and mom’s done most of the childrearing or you know, when—

Donna: Uh-hm.

Jim: –he never, whatever scenario you want, but it’s engagement time. The 13-, 14-, 15-year-old son, you know, needs that dad to be there and present and teaching them more directly. How does a dad go about doing that? I know these are hypotheticals and it’s hard, but if you’ve been absent in that for so long, how do you hear today’s program and say, okay, now I understand. I’m puttin’ pieces together.

Donna: Yes.

Jim: I’ve gotta be more engaged. I go home tonight. You just don’t flip a switch, do you?

Donna: No, you don’t flip a switch, but it does start with that. It starts with a switch flipping in the parent.

Jim: The attitude.

Donna: The attitude, it does and at some point, we all have to say, okay, it’s time for me to re-engage, to step up to the plate and we do that by listening to our child, by showing our child respect and by treating our spouse with respect, because modeling respect is just as important as teaching respect.

John: There’s so much about modeling that so many of us feel inadequate about. I mean, I’m reminded daily that I mess up with the kids and I have to really just remind myself that one of those principles you shared earlier, Donna, it’s a process.

Donna: Yes.

John: And we’re not gonna attain perfection for our kids or Jim, as you were pointing out, in this life at all. There are moments where we wince though, because our kids did something and we’ve had a couple of park incidents mentioned.

For me, one of the most terrible moments in our parenting journey was when our youngest was, I guess he was about 6 and we were at a park and Jim, he has some special needs and so, it’s a little bit difficult to manage him and to know what’s gonna come next.

But I had a dad holding this precious little girl and he came up to us. We were assembled as a group havin’ a lunch and he said, “Whose kid is that?” And he pointed up on one of the playgrounds, you know, with the gym sets that—

Donna: Yes.

John: –kind of a story up in the air. And my heart sank, because I knew it was mine and so, I said, “Well,” I looked and I said, “Well, that’s my son.” And he said, “Well, he’s up there and he’s using his finger and he’s shooting at my girl going, ‘Bang, bang, you’re dead.’ And you shouldn’t let him do that and it’s really stupid of you and you oughta pay more attention to what he’s doin’.”

And my heart just sank, because, A, I felt badly for him and I don’t think his daughter was traumatized, but still, it was—

Donna: Yes.

John: –it was a really awkward moment for him. I’ve long ago given up letting other people’s judgments hit me too hard, but that one was pretty tough.

Donna: Uh-hm.

John: And there’s room for grace here toward other parents, right–

Donna: Yes, yes.

John: –and you lift some of that condemnation and extend some grace?

Donna: Oh, what a perfect word. As you were telling the story, that’s the exact word that kept coming in my mind—”grace.” Grace means we’re not perfect, but we’re loved anyway. That’s really what we’re talkin’ about here.

John: Well, all I felt was, you don’t know what I’m dealing with, sir. And I can’t keep an eye on this kid in a public place at all times. I’m just [wanting to] have a little breathing room on a nice quiet weekend morning to let him go and play a little bit and I’m sorry, but give me a little grace, please.

Donna: Yes, yes, which is such a good word that we need to give other parents grace when they’re not perfect. We need to give our spouse grace when our spouse doesn’t do it right, perfect[ly]. We need to give ourselves grace when we don’t do it perfectly. We need to give our child grace. I mean, it really is an important [point]. This is where grace gets fleshed out. We talk a lot about grace, but this is where it comes home.

Jim: That’s a good point. I mean, that applies to us no matter what we’re doing.

Donna: Uh-hm.

Jim: Does grace really count? Do you really know what it means?

Donna: Do you really know what it means?

Jim: It shows up in the parenting journey.

Donna: Yes, it does.

Jim: You know, or it should—

Donna: Yes.

Jim: –’cause that’s where we need it the most. Donna, we’ve talked about a lot of things today, but I like the four R‘s that you touched on last time.

John: Uh-hm.

Jim: I like the four R‘s you touched on last time. For those that haven’t heard that, just the recap was rehearsing, reminding, reinforcing and reflecting. Just give us again, for those that are joining us today, didn’t have time last time, touch on what those are again.

Donna: Yes and they’re so important, because so often we’re so general with our children. Be nice.

Jim: Yes.

Donna: Be fair, you know, and—

Jim: Play fair.

Donna: –play fair. Well, what does “Be nice” mean? You know, it’s so generic and so general. So, to rehearse means that you practice with your child the behavior that you want your child to implement. So, this works great if you have a special occasion coming up, where you know your child will be in a certain circumstance. Just rehearse it with your child. Set them up for success. It also works really well if there’s one behavior that your child is really struggling with and it’s a point of contention. You just pick that one behavior. Don’t try to do two or three or too many, just one thing and really work with your child on that, rehearse it; practice it.

So, rehearse and then you’re going to remind, which means you remind your child before they’re in the circumstance.

Jim: Here’s what’s coming.

Donna: Here’s what’s coming and remember how are you gonna handle it with this happens? You know, you’re going to this birthday party and what if they play a game that you don’t particularly like? How are you gonna respond? I’m gonna play it anyway with a great attitude. That’s right. You know, you remind them beforehand; that way you’re not nagging them and you’re setting them up for success.

So, rehearse, remind, reinforce, so you’re gonna catch them being good. When they do it right, you’re gonna really reinforce that; praise them. And then at times, when they don’t do it right, you’re gonna come back to that issue and maybe some, a little bit of negative reinforcement might be in order at times.

And then finally, you’re gonna reflect. You’re gonna talk about, how does that make you feel when you had the confidence to do a certain thing a certain way successfully? And just reflect on their behavior.

Jim: That is go good, Donna and I wanted to recap that, because it really is succinct and it gives you the four R‘s of things that you can do as a parent. You know, another thing that we did, which was really good. I can speak experientially about that, was something here in Colorado called Cotillion. And I didn’t really understand what it was and I thought it was mostly table manner training and we heard that there was a bit of dance involved—

Donna: Yes.

Jim: –like ballroom dancing. So, we kinda cringed at that, because we knew our boys were not gonna be too big on that. So, I told our oldest, it was probably four years ago; he was probably10 when we enrolled him and he was not happy about it. Cotillion, what is it dad? (Laughter) I said, “Well, I think it’s mostly table manners, so they sit you down and they teach you how to use a fork and a knife and then they’ll tell you how to have conversation with people. There might be a little bit of ballroom dancing. I don’t think much. Well, it’s exactly the opposite. (Laughter) It’s like mostly ballroom dancing—

Donna: Right.

Jim: –with only one of six sessions talking about table manners. So, we’re in the first night; we’re driving home, he was so upset at me. He was mortified and said, “Dad, I mean, come on. I don’t want to dance with a girl.” And I mean, but to this day, he will get compliments on how he shakes a hand and looks a person in the eye and they taught them that. You know, we had tried.

Donna: Right.

Jim: But they really got ahold of him and he does. He looks a person in the eye. He shakes their hand. How are you? It’s very good to meet you and we can go right back to that training—

Donna: Right.

Jim: –and say that’s where you learned it and he’d say, “Yep, that’s where I caught it.”

Donna: Right and–

Jim: So, it’s a good thing to do.

Donna: –yes, it is and you know, you bring up a really good point, because of course, our kids are gonna complain when we require that they put their napkin in their lap or they actually stay seated at the dinner table, rather than, you know, sitting with their cell phone out or that we’re gonna say, “You need to write a thank-you note.”

Jim: Right, they don’t just naturally–

Donna: No.

Jim: –do these things.

Donna: No, they’re not gonna say, “Oh, yea!” you know, they’re gonna balk at it, but because this is such an important way we set our children up for success in life, that we just do it anyway, because good parents parent.

Jim: Well, Donna Jones, author of the book, Raising Kids with Good Manners, this has been really helpful. You know, I appreciate all the awareness that you’ve brought to this topic and the importance of it—

Donna: Well, thank you.

Jim: –the fact that really at the core, y

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