How to raise a polite child

After a lively debate in the office, Katie wonders if teaching Sophie to use formal greetings for adults is outdated.

Sophie (right) and cousin Eloise listening politely while Poppa reads a story.

Okay, so I know my daughter is only 14 months old — and that what I’m about to ask really won’t be an issue until she says more than “Mama,” “Dada,” “hi” and “cracker” — but it’s up there, percolating in my brain, and I won’t let it go until I put it on the table and have other parents weigh in. Okay? Are you ready? Here goes:

In this day and age, how do you raise a polite kid?

I ask this question because we had a debate around the office the other day about the rather antiquated practice of calling adults by a formal name of address. Most people agreed that, while we grew up calling our friends’ parents Mr. or Mrs., it’s not really necessary these days. And while I normally don’t shy away from sharing my opinion (ha!), I didn’t say much for two reasons: 1) I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this issue and 2) While it is very traditional, I always conclude that a kid is polite when they address me more formally (it makes me feel old, too, but that’s a whole other story).

I only started calling my friends’ parents and my parents’ friends by their first names when I was well into my 20s. It felt strange before that, like I was disrespecting them in some way. In our house, when
I was young, we were only allowed to use first names if the adult insisted. If they didn’t, they were Miss, Mrs. or Mr. until the end of time. It was all I knew. And I know for a fact that adults thought my siblings and I were polite, well-behaved kids (if only they knew…).

I find myself wanting a hybrid approach. When I introduce Sophie to an adult, I find myself wanting to use the formal way of address with their first name (i.e. Miss Karine, were Soph hanging out with our Editor-in-Chief) but it always gets stuck on my tongue. It seems a bit stodgy, sure, but also well-mannered. I don’t know, I’m torn. Of course we’ll teach Sophie “please,” thank you,” and “I’d appreciate if I could watch Everything’s Rosie now, if no one minds” but I just don’t know what to do beyond that. I know it’s about teaching her to respect others, and about how to behave appropriately in certain situations, but I don’t know how to lay the bones for that. I assume it’s with small, gentle lessons, reminding her to show civility and consideration.

So, to take a page from the infamous Carrie Bradshaw and end on a question, I guess I want to know… is teaching a child to respect their elders with a formal greeting one of those small gestures that show a politeness lost today? Or is it just old-fashioned? What else can I do to raise a courteous kid?

Googling Emily Post as we speak.

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