parent opinion

“Forget elbows on the table: These are the manners that really matter.”


There are many, many things I’ve messed up in my life, and there’s not a lot that I’m good at, but I can be confident of this: I’ve raised a polite kid. That’s not just in my biased opinion; it’s the constant feedback I get on him. (And people tell me he’s very tall and trust me, being 1.55cm, I’m as confused about that as they are!)

My son Winston, who’s 13 years old and started high school last year (sob), is a considerate and respectful person, and I’m so goddamn proud of that. Because courtesy and kindness are important. Right now, of course, more so than ever.

Ann Marie Houghtailing explains how to raise a good man. Post continues below.

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I’m not into BS old-school manners like not putting elbows on the table, but I’ve tried hard to teach him about decency and being a good person.

I think it’s sunk in because the stuff I’ve taught him makes sense in 2021. It’s practical advice to help navigate life, to make it easier on himself and everyone around him. It’s not just manners for appearance’s sake – ain’t nobody got time for that.


Here are the acts of courtesy and respect I’ve taught him:

How, and when, to make a hot beverage for someone.

This is something many of us take for granted, and it sounds so small. But how receiving a calming drink that’s been lovingly made makes the other person feel is huge. There will be many times in the future when my kid will be able to comfort someone sad or in crisis with this gesture.

In fact, he already makes me a cup of tea every night – when he sees me dead on the sofa after everything’s finally done, like at 9pm.

It makes me feel appreciated and loved and it’s just a nice thing to receive.

How to be last in a line.

There will be times when letting someone go first in a line, such as an elderly person, or someone with only a few items to buy, will be the right thing to do.


You, and your time, are no more important than anyone else’s, so sometimes the nice thing to do will be to sacrifice a bit of yours out of kindness if you can see it’s needed.

How to use your device in company.

Phones/screens are a part of our lives, so we’ve gotta be realistic. But manners still apply.

We have a rule when eating out, whether it’s just us, or with others; order and eat first, then when everyone’s done, you can be on your phone, only if the other kids have their devices, too. That at least lets the adults have a bit of a chat.

If you’re spoken to when you’re on your phone, look up to reply. Better yet, put it down for the conversation.

To make sense of this to my son, I once showed him what it feels like when someone chooses a device over you. He’s never done it since.

How to handle if you’ve forgotten someone’s name. 

If you’ve forgotten someone’s name, it can feel so awkward for all. But relax, there’s a good chance they’ve forgotten yours, too. And usually, the other person will fill in the gap themselves, if you’re introducing them to someone else.

Otherwise, the truth is perfect: “I’m sorry, I’m terrible with names”, and they’ll help you out.

Sorry and thank you can save a moment or a relationship.

Don’t underestimate the power of these simple words.

I can’t abide people who won’t say sorry, or admit that they’re wrong – and there are lots of them. But it can make or break a relationship.

My best friend and I talk about how our ability to say “I’ve f**ked up, I’m sorry” to each other with ease, is the reason we’ve been solid for 35 years.

We subscribe to the thought, “Do you want to be right, or do you want to be happy?” Sometimes, a simple sorry that you made someone feel a certain way is all a situation needs.


Likewise, I know so many kids who won’t say thank you. It’s disrespectful to the person who’s given them something or has done something for them.

But also, learning to say thank you is about gratitude – being grateful for what’s happened. That’s one of the keys to happiness and satisfaction.

Say hello properly.

Be welcoming, and make it clear you want to engage; it sets the tone for the interaction.

I’m often greeted by customer service people with, “You right?” What does that even mean? A simple hello to start the conversation would make much more sense.


Elders always deserve respect and courtesy – on one condition.

This is something all kids understand as they get older. It’s like the aged pension – an acknowledgement of the contribution people much older than you have made to society.

My son asked me the other day why I call one of our neighbour’s Mr Watson. He’s 80, and very formal, so it feels like the right thing to do.

But I’ve also made it clear that if someone older than you makes you feel uncomfortable, or unsafe, you don’t have to engage. In that situation, it would be perfectly acceptable to walk away.

Door etiquette – yes, there is some.

Knock on closed doors, WAIT FOR AN ANSWER, and then enter. There’s a reason it’s closed!

Hold doors open. This is just a basic sign that you don’t think you’re the only person in the world. You’d hate it if someone slammed a door in your face, so don’t do it to someone else.

Elevator doors: don’t enter a lift until the people who need to have exited. It’s just chaos if you don’t.

Say “excuse me”.

This is not as an apology for your existence, but when you are interrupting someone, or their personal space. It indicates acknowledgement of people in the world other than yourself.

As I tell my kid, “It’s not The Winston Show.”

Even though to me, as his mum, it obviously is – but he’ll be much happier in his own life if he doesn’t know that!

What manners are important to you? Let us know in the comments.

Feature image: Instagram/@namawinston