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Lessons Learned as a Military Kid: The importance of good manners

Why is it important to have good manners? One military kid (now adult) tells us how being in a military family taught her a few basic “rules” of good manners and how it helped her in her adult life!



The Importance of Being Polite

by Emily Herring Dunn

Chew with your mouth closed. Address adults as “sir” and “ma’am.” Make eye contact. Watch your tone. Don’t cross your arms. Sit straight. No elbows on the table. Hold your napkin under your plate when standing.

Good manners are often forgotten in today’s world. It seems they are only remembered when you’re forced to interact with adults, as an adult, or when you’re interviewing for a job.

But manners can’t be pulled out of a hat in the blink of an eye—they take practice. And the longer you don’t practice, the more likely you are to forget.

I’m a special case. My life as a military kid had me in the school of etiquette starting at a very young age. I didn’t think anything of calling adults sir or ma’am, or knowing how to address officers by rank, or remembering to sit up straight and make eye contact—it’s just what I had always done. At the time, it didn’t seem too terribly important. It just … was.

More often than not, I saw it as a nuisance. I envied the kids who weren’t forced to write thank you notes. I smirked at those who slouched. I saw them as rebellious.

Then I made my way into the real world, away from the comforts of military life, and I suddenly realized that the ways I had been taught weren’t, well, the norm. They made me stand out.

And I mean that in a good way.

Being polite is more than just a courtesy, it’s a requirement to succeed. Whether you’re interviewing for a job or trying to maneuver your way around someone at the store, knowing a way to do it without stepping on toes (literally) or coming across as a heathen (this may be more figurative) helps present you in an amiable way—and it might get you that position over someone else.

Here are three things that I’ve found help present myself differently on a daily basis and help me stand out:

1. Address men and women as “sir” and “ma’am.”

I used to think this was antiquated, but have found it now bothers me when people don’t do it. They’ll correct you if they don’t want you to “go to the trouble,” but it is a form of respect and politeness that should not be lost.

2. Make direct eye contact.

In a day of phones, computers, and more—eye contact is getting lost behind screens. Look up and show people they matter. It shows people you care, you’re interested, and you’re able to truly interact.

3. Say “please” and “thank you.”

These are the first words many parents teach their kids for good reason. The smallest thing makes a difference, and saying, “please” when asking for something and “thank you,” can do as much as make someone feel appreciated. Don’t take service, conversation, or favors for granted.

The attitude and gratitude will be returned when you put forth the effort of being polite.

Now that I understand, I’m trying desperately to pass on the same manners and lessons to my own kids. While my husband served, he no longer does, so the military lifestyle won’t be the same for them. Part of me wishes my kids could grow up with the same opportunities I did to practice being polite, but at least I know I can do my best to teach them why it’s so important.


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