More than anything else, a philosophy Montessori teachers call “grace and courtesy” is at the heart of every Montessori classroom. It is the foundation for a successful community, and it is something you can easily incorporate at home.
In its simplest form, grace and courtesy is what most people call “manners,” but really, it is so much more. It is how we teach children the rules of social interaction and give them the tools they need to be successful out in the world.
Grace and courtesy lessons
When a child pushes someone out of the way or yells “Mommy! Mommy!” while you’re on the phone, it can be so tempting to get annoyed at them for . They are being rude, but it’s often because they don’t know the correct way to behave.
Instead of getting mad, try making a mental note that they need a lesson on the correct behavior. Young children need lessons on how to say “excuse me” instead of pushing, on how to wait for your attention when you’re on the phone. They need lessons on basic social interactions that we take for granted.
In Montessori classrooms, these lessons are often taught through role play. A teacher first explains the issue she’s seen, then describes the correct way to handle the situation, and then role plays with another teacher. The children then have a chance to practice.
When giving grace and courtesy lessons, it’s important to give the lesson at a neutral time—if I tried to interfere in the playground dispute and give the lesson at that moment, emotions might be too high to hear the message.
The same is true at home. If you want to show your children how to accept or decline a sibling’s invitation to play, don’t try to do it when they’re already fighting. Choose a when they can really hear you.
Examples of grace and courtesy lessons we give in the classroom include:
- How to greet a teacher
- Accepting or declining an invitation
- Serve someone food
- Waiting for a teacher
- Walking by someone without bumping
- Watching someone work without interrupting them
These are just a few common lessons that come up, but a grace and courtesy lesson can be given about any social interaction or rule in the community that children need help with.
If I give a child a lesson on speaking respectfully to someone, and he hears me being rude to a coworker, the message is lost.
We all make mistakes sometimes, and some of them are bound to be in front of our children. If you wish you had handled a situation differently, talk about it with your child. You might say, “I lost my patience with that other driver because I was scared that he wasn’t being safe. I should not have yelled at him though. Next time I’ll just switch lanes so I don’t have to drive by him.”
Modeling this type of reflection on your behavior is just as beneficial as modeling the correct behavior itself.
Once you’ve given a lesson and modeled the behavior, children will still need many reminders for a new social skill to become a habit.
It can sometimes be tempting to overlook their missteps, especially if you’re tired yourself and don’t want to get into a battle with your child. The most effective way to help a child adopt a new behavior, though, is to give a quick reminder every time.
Using a one-word reminder, or even a hand signal, allows you to frequently reinforce behavior you want to see without feeling like you’re always nagging.
For example, many children at school need reminders to push their chair in when they get up from a table. I just say “chair” or touch their chair without saying anything if we’re making eye contact. There is no need to restate the entire rule every single time. They know the rule, they just forget. A one-word reminder feels less like a lecture and is less likely to incite an argument.
Try it at home
Home is such a wonderful place to practice grace and courtesy! Situations, like eating family meals and having friends over, are the perfect opportunities for children to practice social skills.
Before your child enters a new situation, try going over some of the situations he may encounter and how to be successful.
Before a family dinner, give a lesson on how to ask someone to pass food or how to ask to be excused. Roleplay with your child and then give her the chance to practice at the dinner table.
Other examples of grace and courtesy lessons you might give your child are:
- How to whisper in the library
- How to clean a spill, how to get your attention while you’re on the phone
- How to invite a friend over, how to solve a disagreement with a sibling
- How to apologize (if it is sincere)
- How to wait for a turn, how to introduce one’s self
- How to decline an invitation
- How to say thank you for a gift
- How to offer help
With a little help and lot of patience, our children can not only learn to be polite but can learn to be their best selves in social situations and at home.