24 December 2009 11:34 AM

Teaching Kids Civility

by Dr. Rick

Sometimes it seems as if everyone is pushing, shoving, arguing, and fighting – look at politics, “reality” TV, the crowds at the mall, the commotion in the halls at schools, and maybe even our own homes at times.  And don’t get me started on rush hour traffic or overcrowded highways.  I’ve heard the terms “road rage,” “office rage,” even “school rage.”  When will it end?


Why can’t we just be nice?


Well, as a matter of fact, we can.  Civility has become a sort of cottage industry lately, giving rise to books, college courses, lecture series, and even a fifty-state “road trip” by the chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, former Iowa Congressman Jim Leach.  In what some people might find a delicious irony, a former politician plans to lead discussions on civil discourse in American society.  (I’ve heard Mr. Leach interviewed on National Public Radio, and he’s quite eloquent on the subject.)  I wish him success in his mission – and civil audiences.


The simple truth is that the world can, indeed, be a little more pleasant with an increase in civility.  Live with civility constantly and it’ll become a part of who you are.  The earlier the better.


So, in an attempt to add to the efforts of well-meaning civility advocates, here are some tips of my own for us parents, teachers, and significant adults in kids’ lives.  These tips, learned many years ago, come from my own experiences with teenaged students, and I’m not about to give up now.

  1. Be a role model.  This is key, as it is for just about everything we want our kids to learn.  Kids learn from us, they emulate us.  They pick up our habits, attitudes, values, and beliefs.  So set a good example.  There are plenty of bad examples out there, many masquerading as cool “entertainment,” so you have to be strong.

  2. Do good things.  When you’re around kids, you have a special responsibility, so say “please” and “thank you.”  Use positive language, especially when it’s most difficult like when you’re frustrated by traffic, long lines, or other annoyances over which you have no control.  Maintain self-control as best you can.  Watch your table manners.  Respect others.  These behaviors are not always convenient or easy, which makes them even more valuable lessons – hard victories are worth more than easy ones.  When you don’t do so well, ’fess up, and move on.  That’s a lesson in itself.

  3. Reward civility.  Praise kids when you’ve “caught” them being civil, thoughtful, honest, kind, or responsible.  Tell them you’re proud of them.

  4. Notice civility in others.  Point out acts of civility and fairness in others, so kids will recognize it when they see it.  These can come from family members, strangers you see in the grocery store, athletes, or fictional characters in stories, movies, or on TV.

  5. Talk about civility.  Tell why it’s important to you.  Share stories of civility from your life, either your own kindness to others or others’ kindnesses to you.  Tell about family members’ kindnesses.  Talk about how these good acts affected you.  Talk about people you look up to and why.  This is how values are passed on.

  6. Teach about others’ feelings.  When you and your child witness a kindness – or a hurtful act – take the opportunity to ask, “How do you think she feels right now?”  Being aware of others’ feelings is the first step toward civility.

  7. Develop children’s sense of responsibility.  Chores are a good way to do this.  Give kids age-appropriate tasks to accomplish, like putting away toys, helping with meals, setting the table, dusting, vacuuming, raking leaves, getting homework done on time.  Responsibility develops self-worth and self-respect, which in turn promote respect for others.

  8. Encourage charity.  Charitable giving is an excellent way to get kids to recognize that others don’t always have it so easy and to count their own blessings.  Let kids choose their favorite charity, and encourage them to donate a small percentage of their allowance.

  9. Have clear, high expectations.  Let your kids know that you will not tolerate purposefully unkind, disrespectful, and rude behavior.  You don’t have to be a prude about this, just consistent.  “The Golden Rule counts in this family” is a good and timeless motto to live by.

  10. Have a sense of humor.  We don’t have to be saints and boy scouts all the time (although maybe that wouldn’t be so bad).  Teach your kids that it’s the mark of maturity to adjust one’s behavior and language to the situation at hand.  We don’t talk and behave in church or the classroom the way we talk and behave while hanging out watching TV with our friends, for example.  It’s okay, even natural, to let loose a little once in a while, but not when it comes at someone else’s expense.  That’s all I’m saying.

Thoughts, readers?  Click on “Comments” below and share your opinions.  We’re particularly interested in your family’s anecdotes and successes.




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