Home motherhood/family/parenting Teaching Children Manners: Attentiveness

Teaching Children Manners: Attentiveness

by Kelly Crawford

If you’re careful to observe the youth culture, you might notice that kids are more likely to be self-revolving and less likely to be attentive to the needs of others around them.

Whether it be something as small as watching the tone of their voices around other people (or their language), or something a bit bigger like offering to take the cart of an elderly person back to its place, children are not being taught to notice the needs of others, much less to put those needs before their own.

(Most adults fall into this category as well, which is simply the result of not being taught as children.)

(I personally think the public school system is set up to do the opposite of training youngsters to be thoughtful of others, yet ironically, homeschool naysayers often question…“Well don’t you want them to learn to get along with others?” I’m always confused that we don’t seem to make the connection…I digress again 😉

Of course the outward expression of serving must come from an inward understanding and desire to serve, which is an ongoing training mission for the parent (one more labor-intensive job that few take the time to do.)

Again we point back to Scripture….“he who is first will be last…”…”he who desires to save his life must lose it…”…”you also ought to wash one another’s feet”…“be ye kind one to another…”

Boy, how we could impact the world for Christ by such a simple measure as teaching our children to attend to the needs of others!

Being attentive to others’ needs must start within the family, just like most any character trait. A phrase we have recently started trying to encourage our children to ask is, How can I help?” (We got that from Greg Harris.)

That phrase is intended to train their eyes to see around them and look out for things beyond themselves that need to be done. Delaying self-gratification, if need be, for the good of others.
Little ones should be taught young. Simple habits to form are:
  • Having them take their plates/cups to the sink (remind them that this helps or serves the one doing dishes).
  • Making sure they pick up the things they get out. It’s constant, yes, but it will pay. “Don’t leave a mess for someone else to pick up” is our mantra.
  • Encouraging boys to open doors and be alert to carry things for the girls or Mom. Feminists hate this, but a queen loves it. 😉
  • Encouraging them to let others go first. Jumping to the front of every line is rude and I see teenagers do it all the time.
  • Model the example. Let your children see you offering to help others–even strangers in public.
  • Cleaning off your table at a fast food restaurant. We don’t have to, but it’s courteous.
  • I suppose the list could go on and on. Small things that communicate “there’s more to life than ME”.

And any time we are visiting another family, we try to encourage our children to at least offer with clean-up.

We also talk a lot about how work is heavy if it falls on one or two people, but “many hands make light work” when shared.

At the core of attentiveness is teaching our children that life is not to be lived individually, like the culture tries to teach us. It is not about “looking out for #1“; it’s about working and serving together as a family, putting others first, and then having that attitude extend to people wherever we go.

Attentiveness could wear many hats, and is a simple concept. But what a contrast in a self-centered day!

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Bethany Hudson March 12, 2009 - 10:54 am

Being an only child in the ’80s and ’90s, my mother was very careful to teach me to be attentive to the needs of others. She got a lot of flack for the fact that I was an only (not her choice; she and my father tried for two decades to have more children, but I was the only pregnancy!; people can be so rude…anyway) so she wanted to be sure that I was practiced at sharing and noticing what others needed. I think she was probably even more alert to it than she would have been if I’d had siblings, simply because her parenting was under SUCH scrutiny, even from strangers, because they all expected me to be a spoiled brat. I think you laid out some great principles and examples here, Kelly. Thank you.

Brenda March 12, 2009 - 11:38 am

We talk about “someone else” all the time in our family. I tell the girls, “If we leave this big mess here, someone else will have to clean it–like the janitor.” At home, I ask them if they left whatever on the table so that someone else would have to clean it up. NO–of course that’s not WHY they did it. They left it b/c they were too lazy to want to put it up, but they need to realize that if THEY don’t do it, SOMEONE ELSE will have to!
At public places, I am always pointing out that the folks that work there will have to clean up our mess–and they have enough to do!
Modeling goes a LONG LONG way in this training process. Even as a public school teacher, if a student dropped their school box, I always went to help them pick it up and soon 20 other little bodies were helping too. Or if someone fell, and the class started to laugh, I would always rush over with concern and say, “Are you OK?” Soon, the students were asking each other if they were OK when someone fell. It works.

kinberly in idaho March 12, 2009 - 11:51 am

Thank you for the great post. It makes me cringe when I hear the same 7 year old walk up to various adults and say “your stupid”, stick out their tongue, and run off and the parent just smiles and shrugs. This is at church, no less. The child did it to me once and I told them, gently, how rude and disrespectful they were being. The mother said, “he was just playing around.” My husband and I try very hard to teach our kids respect and the joy of helping others. It brings me such pleasure, as a parent, when I see my child help someone and they aren’t doing it to please me, they are just doing it. Thank you for the excellent advice. P.S. I’ve been wondering how your husband’s eye condition is.

Word Warrior March 12, 2009 - 12:57 pm


Thanks for asking about Aaron’s eyes! Basically, they seem to be the same, or, as we are told, slowly progressing into less peripheral vision.

Last night he tripped over a piece of furniture and said, “I hate having no peripheral!” We make comic references to it, but really, it’s not funny 😉

He still drives, though, as of now.

Janice H. March 12, 2009 - 1:11 pm

We only have two children right now (ds 2, dd 1), but even just in the last two years we have changed our ideas about parenting to a training model. This post and yesterdays are a great perspective. There is so much to consider when training your kids. I can’t just teach them to share and abide by the simple laws of childhood. We’ve realized that attitudes are being shaped and that is so huge. Your post about using scripture in our homes and with our children is also a change I am starting and seeking to make.

Just this morning I was talking with a friend who was saying how difficult it can be for her sometimes because she feels I am her only friend who agrees in starting to lay a foundation for training our children now. I am so thankful for a friend also. Loneliness has been a big part of our decisions about letting God direct the decisions in our home, family size, discipline and habits, etc. — even among other Christians. Thank you for posting about such matters. It has sparked great conversations in our home and encourages me greatly as a mother. Having older moms – with more children – to watch and learn from is something that is so important…like you were saying about Olivia the other day. I still watch and continue to search for mothers who truly and wholly do things God’s way. They’re more difficult to find than you might expect.

HappyHermit March 12, 2009 - 2:54 pm

I do thoroughly enjoy this article. Thank you for sharing.

Kim from Canada March 12, 2009 - 5:33 pm

LOL! I just had a discussion with my daughter about her clean up duties after supper. I found her ‘sculpting’ the brick of butter instead of finishing the clean up.

We work on attentiveness daily – about looking outside of ourselves and seeking to serve others. Training my child has trained me!

Mother of Dog March 12, 2009 - 6:56 pm

Here’s one area I throughly agree with you (minus the public school smackdown – I think public schools do try and instill this, but it must be done at home as well).

No scripture in my family, but still I was very strictly brought up, and my mother made sure that her children were well-behaved. We did not act out in public, and we addressed adults as “Mr.” and “Mrs.” We had chores and responsibilities. The world did not revolve around us! I firmly believe in the good of all as opposed to individual rewards – you might say, that’s what makes me a Liberal Democrat. 😉

(I’m sincerely sorry about your husband’s eye troubles. I hope something can be done.)

Word Warrior March 12, 2009 - 7:08 pm


Thank you for the positive comment 😉

Mrs. Taft March 12, 2009 - 7:23 pm

MOD–is that your dog in your profile picture? That is a CUTE pooch.

sheena March 12, 2009 - 10:59 pm

Great post! I’ve been expecting our children to do these things but failing to focus very much on why they should do them. (which is maybe why they need constant reminders and monitoring)
We’ve just finished up reviewing our last two bible study units and so I have been keeping my eyes and ears open for a new topic to study in God’s word.
I think we’ll spend the next few weeks studying how Jesus loved others by serving and putting others (and God’s will for his life) first. We’ll talk about the things you mentioned in this post. I’d love a second post on this same topic if you have the time.
Thanks again

Tracy March 13, 2009 - 10:07 am

Like you said, it must be set as an example. I know kids that can have great manners if they try but as soon as they go back home they forget them because they aren’t seen at home. It’s sad to me the my 4 year old tells his 13 year old cousin to say excuse me after she burps. 🙁 He already is holding open doors for me and others. Like you said, not seen often enough.

Giann March 13, 2009 - 5:21 pm

I agree again! I LOVE to help other people!! I have seen some kids just watch! Thank you so much for doing this post/series!

6 arrows November 6, 2011 - 10:03 pm

Another thing along the lines of attentiveness that we try to teach our kids (and ourselves!) is to always try to leave a room in better condition than you found it. In other words, not only put away what you got out, clean up your messes, etc., but look around for one extra thing that needs doing, and just do it yourself. Maybe wiping up that little bit of toothpaste that a little sibling left on the counter, or whatever. Easier said than done, though, in the hustle and bustle of life!

Jodi July 14, 2012 - 1:25 am

This is such a fabulous article. We are working so hard around here to change that pattern and inspire others to do the same. Building Christian character is the #1 thing we are working on around here. Man it takes a lot of work, but I’m praying that God has His hand on my kids’ hearts already. Thanks for what you do!

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