Why Are Good Manners Important – Even More So for the Special Needs Child

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Asking the question, why are good manners important, is likely to raise a plethora of negative responses.  Our special needs children don’t need excuses when they are struggling with so much and sometimes the successes we are hope for has been truly hard to come by.  We may have fought to see them speak their first words, learn to walk, go to the potty.  To expect stellar behavior, is that asking too much?  Are you inclined to excuse their poor manners?

The fact of the matter is that good manners will universally shape the character of our children.  If we want them to be socially capable, then learning to treat others with kindness, to be considerate, courteous and respectful is important so that their social interactions will run smoothly.

Our amazing universe ... will our young ones someday shine like the stars?

Our amazing universe … will our young ones someday shine like the stars?

 What’s the Big  Deal?  Why ARE Good Manners Important?

So why make a big deal about having good manners?  There are many reasons why manners are important but the absolute biggest and best reason is that when they embrace good manners they become empowered!  Is’nt that part and parcel to our goals for them, that they are able to function well, and safely navigate life in their world?  Don’t we want them to be understood and accepted for all the wonderful qualities they do have, not singled out because they are considered to be rude?  Manners also hammer in qualities that support self-esteem, will build confidence, and overall contribute to better communication abilities.  But….

What’s The Problem for Special Needs Children?

Its all about the brain’s ability to process.  Simply stated many special needs children are very black and white about things. Concepts are not something that easily click in their brain.  Processing of a situation and lack of comprehension can hamper a situation’s outcome.  Complicate that with inappropriate behaviors of other people like when an adult is found to be bullying children in school.  This is no doubt very unsettling, even confusing, to a special needs child who experiences fear and then cannot put into words what is happening.

Kid's Manners a Necessary Part of Their Balance as People

Kid’s Manners – a Necessary Part of Their Balance 

Another example could be someone with ill intent, who entices a child with candy.   For a child that wants candy all of the time, this can leave them VERY vulnerable. How do you feel about this?

Doesn’t their vulnerability make the hair on the back of your neck stand up with the alarm it causes?  

How will having good manners affect their lives, now and as adults? 

First lets consider how ….

Manners Are A Protection

Let’s be frank.   Someone who has manners is usually well composed and can handle themselves with confidence!   Knowing how to say no, and doing so with firmness and respect can imbue our child with the confidence to stand up to someone who is being inappropriate.  Suffice it to say that inappropriate conduct can be something as non-threatening as someone telling our child to eat a certain food that they have texture problems with, or another child encouraging them to say a bad word, or to smoke something, or a person young or old touching them in inappropriate ways.  Can you see your child being able to firmly respond by saying “No thanks, that’s not for me!”  Firm resolve, stated clearly and with the finesse of good manners can be a protection.

Are They Just ‘Nice’ words?  I think not!  Think ISOLATION.

Let’s consider saying please and thank you.  Who doesn’t appreciate getting this recognition when it comes to the give and take of human interactions?  When someone fails to ask pleasantly with a “please” and show gratitude with “thank you” how do you feel?  When our special needs children fail to use this very important social norm it is one more reason piled onto others that can socially isolate them.

Like a long tunnel to who knows where ... this is isolation.

Like a long tunnel to who knows where … this is isolation.

Now that is something I hate thinking about, my daughter socially isolated.  Are we not in the best position to help them have one less reason for isolation in their lives?  Don’t you enjoy spending time with someone who is gracious?  Wouldn’t we like the parents, teachers, or therapists in our child’s life to be able to tell us “Abraham has such good manners”?  “Sally always remembers to say thank you when she is given her lunch.”   Do you feel the smile on your face because someone said that about your child?

Challenges Don’t Need to Hem Them In

Our children have many challenges confronting them, often times out of our control and theirs.  For instance, some special needs children are very ‘egocentric’, far more so than a child without special challenges.  They are centered only on themselves and do not consider the feelings of others.   They can be so engrossed in something they are doing, as is often true of autistic kids, so hyper-focused on lining up their toy trucks, or dolls, or play set of kitchen utensils or that set of tools just like daddy’s, that they become oblivious to the immediate world around them.   One form of isolation, right?

The characteristic of lining things up is predominant in autism.

The characteristic of lining things up is predominant in autism.

Now let’s say that a fellow classmate or maybe the student aide is trying to interrupt them to come for their snack.  Breaking the pattern of actions in which they are engaged before they have finished what they set out to do can be an emotionally charged situation, for them and for the other person too.  Does your kiddo come unglued when he can’t finish lining things up, or put things one by one by one back into that shoe box?

Isolation Hurts

If it’s not bad enough they weren’t able to finish their isolating task, now they are being asked to sit down at the table in a fussed up frame of mind.  They are out of sorts, being taken from a process that for them is calming and affords them a sense of accomplishment into a situation that requires them to be cooperative, to not be loud, and to interact in the give and take of having a snack.  This is an entire shift from where their minds were and it is unsettling.   As a matter of practice we really must help them to develop the ability, even under their personally upsetting situations, to step back and be able to use an appropriate exchange, and in time to remember to say please and thank you, without prompting.  It will lessen the potential for situations that are tense, even stressful.  We will not be setting them up for failure but be empowering them to succeed.

Temple Grandin & Good Manners

This is one of the powerful lessons that Temple Grandin has made in many of her presentations.  She talks about how her mother absolutely required that she have manners.  She feels strongly that having been taught to be socially correct has made a big difference for her as she managed through life in college, in her remarkable engineering career designing animal handling facilities, and in her role as a professor at Colorado State University.

What WE Learn From Her is Priceless

What WE Learn From Her is Priceless

Her story imbues me with the confidence that teaching our precious little ones the importance of good manners and absolutely requiring it of them is critically important to their success in their world.  One does not think of Temple as being disabled, indeed she is a remarkable intelligent person.  But to know that she was not able to speak at 4 years old tells us that she has faced life with good support and has grown through the early challenges.   She credits her mother as being the one that prepared her to navigate the world with social grace.  Now isn’t that a nice thought, that our grown children could say this about us would be wonderful!

WHERE – WHEN – HOW

So, we have established the ‘why’ for having manners.  It is both a protection and will facilitate their ability to be socially acceptable in a world where the potential for them to not be accepted looms in a disheartening way.  It will help to define their character and personality.

Where and when are pretty much intertwined when it comes to socially acceptable behaviors.

Good Times with one Another

Good Times with one Another

Meal Time Table Manners

When dining out, during school lunches, and during family meals using good manners helps to prevent our little ones from being singled out.  I’m not going to list the manners we want to see, after all we know this, right.  Like eating with our mouth open, hmmm, not good form.  And talking so loudly that everyone in the restaurant turns to see what is going on, well this is not just distracting but rude, after all eating should be a peaceful time, not punctuated with alarming loud noises, right?

How about you?  What do you require of your children?

Family Time Affords Time To Connect with One Another

Family Time Affords Time To Connect with One Another

One of my standards is to ask for permission to get down from the table.  Meal time is a time to associate with one another and catch up with how we are doing, to listen to one another and be acknowledged.  So,  getting down from the table before we all have shared in that interchange is a lost opportunity for us and for them.

Situations Often Govern Good Manners

The Give and Take of Conversation

Something we continue to work on is not interrupting a person’s conversation.  It’s very difficult for a person who is in fast forward to conceptually get that its socially unacceptable to interrupt.  My daughter and I aren’t there yet.  We still work on remembering to say “Excuse Me” and to wait for a response.  This is hard for her to conceptually grasp.

What about holding the door, for someone, not rushing through it?   Now that’s not just kind but polite and good mannered, too.  Are you not touched by this thoughtful act that demonstrates a child has learned to be respectful and considerate of others feelings?

Isn’t that essentially what having good manners boils down to? 

Showing consideration for other’s feelings as demonstrated by our good manners.

Do you have some good examples of situations where manners would have smoothed over the situation you and your child experienced?   For instance, does our child understand that ‘passing gas’ is not done at the table, or during our meetings for worship?   What about making faces or sticking out their tongue?  Or burping?   Do you find that your child picks up on and uses bad words and copies bad conduct of others?  That can be shocking, right, and man can those words get locked in.

Places Where the Social Rules are Strict

Manners in the classroom a must for school success.

Manners in the classroom a must for school success.

The very location may deem how strict the social rules will be.  Does your examples include the classroom, religious meetings or church?   What about a public bathroom?  Disrobing in the middle of the bathroom can leave folks very uncomfortable, so teaching our kiddos about where to pull down their pants, (in the stall) and using the toilet with the door closed is as important as getting them there to ‘go’.

HOW?  Just How Do We Do This?

First we have to admit that if we want them to have manners we need to have manners ourselves.  We all know that children will mirror our conduct.  If we are remembering to say please and thank you to them and others, if we are considerate and respect their thoughts and feelings, if we open the door for a person in community settings, if we offer them the first glass of orange juice or the first piece of cake, then are we are setting the foundation for their conduct.  YES, indeed we are!

Establish your good manners expectations for your family AND hold them up as the standard they will live by.  Let’s not excuse bad manners in our children to their disability or lack of language abilities.  If we want our children to succeed in avoiding negative  peer pressure and reduce the propensity for bullying we will hold them to our standards to have good manners.

 No excuse for poor behavior and bad manners is a good excuse if our intention is to help them be well-balanced and capable adults!

Poor Behavior Will Not Correct Itself. 

We are the ones best suited for helping our young ones learn socially acceptable behavior when they have chosen to be socially inappropriate and may have acted poorly and been embarrassing.  It is our choice to help them understand and to help them choose to use good manners.  It is our job to correct them and to set for them a good example.  In other words if they goof up we can’t condone that, we need to fix it with loving direction and corrective discipline, not punitive or corporal discipline, I’m saying loving discipline that is not meted out in anger.

Think of it this way: 

Manners are a code of conduct by which standards for acceptable behavior are set.  Manners become the oil of human interactions that facilitates good relationships.   And good relationships at school, in time for them at work, in other settings like the store or meetings is our sought after end result.  

Correction done out of love will reap good results.

“Good manners are not about doing everything perfectly right, they are about being thoughtful and using common sense, about choosing civility over rudeness. “  Jill Evans Kryston, Director of Defining Manners – A School of Contemporary Protocol

Good manners provide the opportunity for our special needs people to become fully realized in their world because they will more easily make friends, and create a positive impression on others.  If our special needs children are practicing good manners it will do two significant things:  it will earn them respect and they will have far more self-respect.  Is that not one of the most compelling reasons for teaching them, for insisting they have good manners?

Calm and Peaceful Relationships ARE Possible Through Good Manners

Calm and Peaceful Relationships ARE Possible Through Good Manners

So, my friend, what good manners do you expect your children to live up to?

Share your stories with us so we might all benefit from your experience.

 

Your thoughts and comments  are most welcome.  If you have a question by all means Contact Me Here! 

16 Responses to “Why Are Good Manners Important – Even More So for the Special Needs Child

  • I have a relative who is autistic and now in her teenage years. She was not brought up with manners as described in your article. She does well at times though the rest of the time is isolated as you mention. I may already know the answer to this but given I don’t know much about autism … is it too late to teach an autistic child manners when they are nearly adults?
    Thanks
    Eric

    • Linda

      Hello Eric!

      And thank you for checking in with me.

      It saddens me that the teen you have mentioned is sometimes isolated. It is much easier to anchor these good manners skills when they are younger, a child’s mind is more ‘plastic’ and can better lock in good habits. I feel strongly that any one of us is always in different levels of mental, emotional, and spiritual growth. For this reason, and because as humans we have innate qualities, I believe that she can still be taught to have the manners that will facilitate her socially accessing more of her life. It is not too late. However, it will take greater effort now.

      I would find out what is a motivating ‘plug in’ for her and find ways to integrate the good manner behavior into receiving that which is motivating, like for instance offering a CD of her favorite musician when she had accomplished 3 set goals of using good manners. Additonally, I like using the concept of putting a toy or game my daughter likes into “time out”. Even the TV can go into “time-out” as a way to begin emphasizing the importance of making good choices.

      Also, you said she “does well at times” so her caretakers and loved ones can monopolize on those times and really build her confidence and reinforce those awesome times when she is doing well with appropriate and applicable “kudos”.

      Having an autistic child in our lives will come with its tough days. I am not a psychiatrist or professional in the field so I will go and do some research on your specific question and get back with an update, especially if I find some awesome resources to help she and her family out. She need not often be as though she is in “isolation”. I hope we can find the right answers to help.

      In the meantime, try what I am recommending here while I do some research.

      Linda

  • My daughter is on the autistic spectrum. Throughout her life I have insisted she uses good manners. She does have communication difficulties and social anxiety but I am so proud of how people can warm to her by her just saying thank you or please. My mother always said good manners cost nothing.

    • Linda

      Oh yes, Vanessa, it is so true that good manners cost nothing. How grand that you expected her to have good manners, both of you are reaping the benefits by holding this standard and expecting her to reach for it. Social anxiety only worsens the potential for being isolated. I am so happy for you and understand your feeling of pride when others respond favorably to your daughter. What an awesome success you have created for her, and that she has chosen to be that person with good manners is wonderful and encouraging. I believe others will benefit from what you have shared today, so THANK YOU very much for your generous contribution to us all!

      Linda

  • LOVE this article. Very solid and important information. I work with several children with special needs every day and I could not agree more. Congratulations on helping to spread the word on such a wonderful topic.

    • Linda

      Hi Gina! I am very thankful that you found your way to my site and that you have left your comment confirming the importance of having good manners. In time I am hopeful this post will get more traffic. It is a topic that will always hold value as people raise their special people.

      I very much appreciate you sharing your perspective and experience. We will all benefit!

      Linda

  • I help out at our church and have had a few autistic children within the group I supervise. I can definitely tell you which children have been worked with and learned manners and which ones have not. I believe, as you do, that manners are very important and teach social capabilities. I have seen how having manners leads to greater self esteem and their ability to communicate is so much stronger. Having autism or not, all children should be taught manners. This was a very insightful article that I appreciate you sharing with us.

    • Linda

      Hello Michelle!

      Your true life experience confirms what we both know, that “manners lead to greater self esteem and their ability to communicate”. These are critically important for balance and safety in their adult lives. When the ability to communicate can so easily be upset, I just feel that every foundation for our children’s success and that of family, neighbors and friends hinges on their abilities to be socially accepted. Thank you VERY much for sharing your confirmation to the subject of this post. It is most appreciated.

  • I could not agree more as many parents these days have a more careless approach to children’s manners. Thanks for pointing out the importance and the solutions.

    • Linda

      Hello Jason,

      It has been very encouraging to see so many in agreement with you as they comment here. I hope that some of what has been shared can support our goals to give our special needs kiddos the very best in accessing life from a place of confidence and peace.

      Linda

  • Wow unbelievable Linda …I am going to have to show this site to my sister …she was working with the special needs children in the schooling system up until this year. She has gone back to teaching this year – a bit less demanding so she can help out with her granddaughter I expect. Reckon the two of you could be kindred spirits.
    Love your website by the way ……..Andrew

    • Linda

      Oh my goodness, Andrew! Thank you for the kind response. I would love for your sister to drop in here and see what I have been doing. Her feedback and experience with special needs children would be most welcomed if she cared to leave a comment or share an experience. This special needs world has so many different avenues and sometimes twists and turns too, that it can make your head spin.

      I hope your sister is indeed finding more time for herself and for her granddaughter. Life is just too short to let it slip away without touching our loved ones in positive ways.

      Thanks for loving my website! “-)

      Linda

  • I’m so glad to have found your site. Dealing with special needs can become overwhelming sometimes and it’s nice to know their are others out there in similar situations. I can’t wait to read your posts and learn your story!

    • Linda

      Thank you, Christie! It’s always good to know that in reaching out with my site someone has found something of value. Let me know if you have a certain subject you’d like for me to address and I will follow through with it.

      Linda

  • Linda, wow – what an elaborately designed and wonderful site you have put together here!. You’ve been such a pleasant and often visitor to my site, I figured it was high time I returned the favor and come over to see what you are doing.

    I love this! The site navigates pleasantly, is colorful, and even though elaborate, still elegantly simple (if that makes any sense, lol)

    I read and appreciated the article on manners and how they are important for special needs kids. I have often been out at a restaurant or a store, and seen SN kids pitching a fit or acting delinquent and the parents just let them go, no attempt to corral their “bad” behavior.

    And I have always just shrugged and tried to not be bothered or annoyed by it, because, after all, these kids can’t help it, right?

    Wrong, I just learned today. And responsible parents/guardians actually ensure the kids will grow up more apt to “fit in” as a functional adult in the adult world if they learn manners – for peace of mind, protection, and not being “singled out” as obvious miscreants.

    Got your site bookmarked – there are some people I know of who could definitely benefit from all the great content you have here.

    Cheers!

    • Linda

      Hello, Marvin,

      Wonderful to hear from you again. Yes, life can keep us mighty busy so I appreciate you have been able to come back by for a visit. I have to say that having found your site has been a lovely treat as I enjoy cooking and exploring the tastes of other cultures. You have made it easy for me to that with your ethnic foods site.

      Thank you for sharing your perspective on my post about good manners. It is such a challenge when special needs kiddos ‘act out’ in a restaurant setting. Families that make time to create family memories in settings other than home are to be commended because often it’s just NOT relaxing. And yes it often poses a problem for other diners.

      You have a great attitude about this, trying not to be bothered or annoyed. I say this because, for many children, it’s the repetition of a desired skill or characteristic that will finally lock it in for them. Those that are failing to ‘corral the bad behavior’, as you said, are actually setting up their kids for a heap of problems as an adult, as you so well surmised from my post. But you know what, folks like you actually render a service that you may not realize by helping them establish good choices in their special needs kids with sessions out and about and in what should be a calm setting, a restaurant.

      Thanks again for sharing your perspective and experience AND for bookmarking my site to share with others. I hope they will drop in and find something that will help in their efforts to raise a child facing challenges.

      Linda

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