goodManners: Teaching honesty with tact Guiding children to respond politely in social exchanges

Being honest is a basic principle of etiquette. But being honest and not hurting someone’s feelings is sometimes a learned discipline for children.

From an early age, we encourage children to “use their words.” Then, we marvel at how well they accomplish that task and really begin to grasp language.

That is, until they say something that is not socially acceptable, or blatantly rude, while in public.

Frequently, this rude verbalization is a child simply being honest about a particular topic or observation — such as, “Green peas are disgusting — how could anyone eat them,” or “Wow, that lady smells bad,” or “He’s a terrible piano player.”

At times, children’s honesty can be a double-edged sword. While we always want them to be honest, we also want them to be considerate of others feelings. Achieving this balance takes some instructional assistance and lots of practice.

The following guidelines may be helpful:

Treat greeting exchanges in a routine fashion

When asked, “how are you?” a simple answer of “fine” or “good” is appropriate the majority of the time. Even if the dog ate your homework, you missed the school bus and just split your pants — a response of “fine” probably is still favorable.

If someone wants more information, they will ask more questions. As adults, this ceremonial exchange of words is done instinctively, but it sometimes requires an explanation with children.

Learn to find the positive in a negative situation

This difficult skill is acquired through a little creativity and lots of practice. Maybe when asked about Johnny’s piano performance you can say, “It looked like he really gave it his all,” instead of saying “He’s not a very good piano player.”

‘Silence is golden’

Sometimes not saying anything is the best approach. If you pass someone who doesn’t smell good and your child says, “Wow, that lady smells bad,” it would be a good time to explain kindly that your child’s words may be hurtful for the lady to hear. You could explain that there could be lots of reasons why the woman may smell (she may be ill or accidentally spilled something on herself).

Opportunities to teach children how to engage in conversation politely occur everyday. The more your child practices, the better he or she will become at politely communicating with others.