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It’s 10 a.m. on a Sunday, and we’ve decided to treat the kids to breakfast at IHOP. After a remarkably brief wait, we’re escorted to our table. Our three kids talk among themselves, deciding what to order. When the waitress comes, the five and seven year olds look her in the eye, and make their requests. Our two year old chimes in with “Apple juice, please!” And, with a smile, the waitress compliments us on how very well mannered our kids are, making my day.

I have to admit, she caught us on an exceptionally good day. Like other siblings, mine have been known to bicker or be a bit too loud in restaurants. But I must admit that, for the most part, my kids are well behaved, at least in public.

Incredible good luck? An undiscovered good-manners gene? Sorry, but I don’t think the answers are quite that simple. (Besides, my son is adopted. He and his sisters don’t share the same genetic background)

Raising kids who exhibit good manners isn’t a matter of luck, and it isn’t easy. It takes work, constant repetition, and lots and lots of reinforcement when they get it right. Don’t kid yourself-an emphasis on good manners is counter-cultural. Take a look around you. Look at the role models our kids to whom our kids are exposed, and what their priorities appear to be. Any parent who places an emphasis on teaching manners is in for quite a few battles of the “But Joey’s parents…” variety.

Yet teaching kids to be mannerly is so important, perhaps today more than ever. Our kids will grow up to be adults, and to function in the adult world. They’ll need to know the proper behavior in public. It is our job as parents to teach and to reinforce that behavior. So I refuse to let my son wear his baseball hat in a restaurant (yes, even an IHOP) in the hopes that he will realize down the road that it isn’t appropriate for school or a job interview either. And my kids look the waitress in the eye, as I would expect any adult speaking with me to. There are one or two television shows that they simply are not allowed to watch – I’m not sure that a seven year old needs to know about what happens in a place called “Bikini Bottom.” They have there share of playground time, but they realize that a restaurant is a different situation, and they remain seated (yes, even the two year old). Of course, we do provide them with distractions; it’s a rare occasion when I don’t have seven or eight crayons and some stickers along for the ride. But the point is that their behavior is polite and respectful of the others eating and working in the restaurant.

Will my lessons stay with my kids? Maybe, maybe not. I fully expect that we’ll have our share of battles when adolescence hits. But I sincerely hope that my husband and I are laying a foundation of respect for others, which is what good manners are all about. I also expect that it will serve them well in life. People who are respectful to others gain their trust and respect in return. Surely that legacy is worth a few small battles with my kids.