Teaching Children Etiquette: 5 Mistakes Most Parents Make When Teaching Etiquette

Most parents would agree that they wish for their children to be kind, respectful, confident and capable of handling themselves well in a variety of situations. However, wishes hardly turn into reality without clear intention and a little instruction.

While ‘charm school’ may sound like a relic from the past, teaching children proper etiquette and intentionally demonstrating good manners has never been more important than today.

In fact, skills such as empathy and communication are among the most hireable and are better indicators of personal success and future leadership than traditional academic benchmarks. 

As adults, it’s easy to take these social skills for granted, but children need to see these skills modeled out time and time again. On the parents’ part, this takes intentional effort, patience and gentle reinforcement. 

Photo by Keren Fedida on Unsplash.

Set your child up for success by instilling valuable core values and social skills – but avoid these five common mistakes.

  1. Unclear or unrealistic expectations

Children thrive on routine, so it’s not uncommon for children to act out in unfamiliar situations – which typically tend to be those important, special (and therefore uncommon in their world!) events such as ceremonies and other celebrations. 

Assuming your child will just “know” how to behave will set you both up for failure. Instead, be sure to talk your child through exactly what will happen along with clear expectations for behavior in the days leading up to the event.

  • Threatening etiquette lessons as a punishment

Correcting misbehavior with a threat of being sent off to learn good manners is a surefire way for children to associate behavior with rebellion instead of confidence and self-awareness. Avoid making such threats and instead focus on teachable moments.

  1. Only enforcing etiquette during special events

One of the biggest mistakes most people make is to only practice etiquette and good manners during special events or one-off occasions. However, the key to developing strong character and self-awareness is to practice etiquette everyday. 

This can be as simple as making “please” and “thank you” part of daily conversation and setting the table for a weekly family dinner. Practicing these skills will help strengthen good manners so that they come naturally to your child, no matter the situation.

  1. They don’t make it fun

What’s more fun than making new friends and enjoying new experiences? Learning and practicing good manners should be seen as an opportunity to have a little fun and perhaps even try something new. When the focus is on connection, experiences, and rewarded with memorable experiences, children will be eager to put their best foot forward.

  1. They don’t model the behavior: More than anything else, polite behavior needs to be modeled by parents and other important adults in the child’s life. Children are allowed to feel their feelings, have bad days, and make mistakes. Do not expect children to be better behaved than the adults in the room – and when there is misbehavior, respond in a way that models kindness, empathy and respect.


It’s easy to make learning manners fun when the focus is on kindness and connection. Be intentional about teaching etiquette, modeling good manners, and helping your children develop important social skills by doing THIS instead:

  1. Learn together

Etiquette is constantly evolving and there is always something new to learn. Find ways to learn and practice good manners together. Be intentional about calling out positive displays of kindness and respect as well as highlighting how you could have better handled a situation that didn’t go as planned.

  1. Incorporate it into play

Etiquette and good manners influence every aspect of life, so find ways to incorporate learning important social skills through play. This could be practicing using kind words like please, thank you and may I while playing “restaurant” or highlighting teamwork and communication while playing board games. 

  1. Make it special

Treat your child to a special experience, whether it’s a day out for lunch, a theater matinee, or simply a backyard picnic, have fun creating special moments centered around connection.

The biggest mistake parents make is assuming children “just know” how to behave in different situations. The reality is that in a child’s mind, every day and experience is new and unknown. 

By modeling good manners, giving children the opportunity to practice important social skills, and making it fun through unique experiences, your child will grow to develop into a kind, confident and capable adult.

Courtney is a certified etiquette coach with a mission to spread kindness and civility through important life skills. Courtney’s unique programs are fun, interactive and inclusive in nature, rooted in values of confidence, awareness, empathy and respect. As an etiquette expert, she offers modern advice designed to elevate the everyday. Visit www.courtneyopalkoetiquette.com to learn more about upcoming events and follow @CourtneyOpalkoEtiquette on social media for daily tips and advice.