goodManners: Say What? An “oops” can happen – Helping children get to “I’m sorry” and beyond

Most of us have made an etiquette faux pas at some point in our life. And yes – it feels lousy while it’s happening, but the silver lining is that we can learn something from our mistakes. As hard as we try we will always make etiquette mistakes.  The same holds true for children. We should be tolerant of such etiquette mistakes when they occur with our children, but at the same time we shouldn’t ignore them. They are excellent opportunities to educate and help children feel more confident.


Teach your child to recognize and apologize when an etiquette faux pas has occurred.

This is often best taught by setting the correct example in front of your children. If you make an error, apologizing immediately is the correct way to handle the situation. None of us want to intentionally hurt someone else’s feelings, and no one enjoys having to apologize.

However, prolonging the apology is also not the right path to take in social situations. Most of the time a sincere and simple “Molly, please excuse me for the [fill in the blank]” is all that’s needed.

Don’t agonize

After apologizing for the etiquette mistake – teach them not to agonize over it. Children need to recognize that they will make etiquette mistakes. If the mistake was addressed and an apology was offered there is no need to continue to be upset about it. The goal is for children to handle the mistake in a polite way, and to not be fearful of future social situations.

A right to respect

If your child is offended – it’s okay for her / him to say something, if it’s polite and considerate. Being polite means treating people with respect. This is a two way street. Being polite does not mean your child should endure rudeness. Children should recognize when they are not being treated with respect. In those situations it’s okay for your child to be assertive and firmly say, “Excuse me Jodi, but I was not yet finished talking.” The key is for children to correct the situation in a polite way, even if the offender is not being polite.

Mistakes happen

Explain to your child that we are all human, and we all make mistakes from time to time. A mistake here and there does not make someone a horrible person. The majority of the time etiquette mistakes are not intended to be malicious in nature. When appropriate, children should learn to forgive and move on with things.

Perspective and humor

Positive reinforcement, praise and setting a good example goes a long way towards teaching children how to handle etiquette mishaps. Keeping things in perspective and maintaining a sense of humor can also be very helpful.