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Martial arts are traditions and systems of combat practices, and people get involved in them for a variety of reasons: self-defense, military and law enforcement use, mental and spiritual development, or even purely for entertainment purposes. They provide more than just a method of defense, an outlet for physical fitness, or fun. It’s also about respect: respect for self and respect for others.

The use of manners is pretty ingrained into most adults. But for kids, manners are still a learning process. They don’t always remember what to do, when to do it, or how to do it. Parents get busy and don’t always remember to enforce manners. Manners matter even, and maybe especially, in martial arts. They’re a form of self-defense. Manners are a method of self-defense by helping to ensure that you don’t unintentionally offend another. While it is very different today than it was centuries ago, there was a time when a samurai could pull out his sword and kill someone who had offended him without impunity, even if that offense was only in the samurai’s own mind. A codified system of manners arose from this to ensure that people didn’t offend someone and prevent danger.

How do you ingrain manners in your kids and pre-teens? There are plenty of things you can do, and most of them are much easier than you think.

Good manners is discipline

Many times when we think of the word discipline, we think of punishment: a spanking or taking away a toy or privilege for poor behavior. But discipline means something else, too: the training to follow rules or a code of behavior. By teaching your child to be respectful, to not yell, speak loudly, or interrupt, and to appropriately greet, say goodbye and otherwise interact with others, you’re teaching them discipline. This discipline spreads to all areas of their life, and will make for a more disciplined, organized child in school, at home, and elsewhere.

Make sure your own manners are front and center

As parents, busy with work, housekeeping, laundry, and the day-to-day raising of our families, it’s easy for our own manners to start to slip a bit. We may say “Will you take care of that?” instead of “Take care of that!” But just because it’s phrased as a question doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s any more polite than the demand would be. Say please and thank you, and smile when you make requests. While you don’t need to put a lot of emphasis on the politeness of your words, do make sure your kids hear you. Examples of politeness are sometimes much more effective than telling them what to do.

Remember that good manners are a habit

Start early, and do your best to enforce everywhere. Don’t make good manners something that gets pulled out like a party trick at weddings or other occasions beyond being at home with family. Use good manners at home, even when it’s just the family. Even if it’s just two members of the family, using good manners should still be important.

Work with your child’s instructor

There are many rules regarding manners in a martial arts school. There are rules regarding bowing, addressing the instruction, speaking with other students, movement during class and ranking. These rules may seem strict and confusing, but it’s important to teach your child to respect and follow them. Ask for a list of these rules, and ask for explanations or clarifications politely, if you don’t understand the purpose behind a rule. Go over them with your children, and discuss with them why it’s important they follow those rules.

Be verbally thankful for things

Saying thank you when someone passes the salt is good manners, of course. But it’s also good manners to be thankful for other things that you may not always be able to thank someone for. Perhaps a good parking space opens up when you need it. You can say something like, “I’m so grateful that space just opened up. Now I don’t have to carry your baby sister as far in the rain.” Be grateful for other things, too. Your job, your spouse, your kids, the roof over your head, and all the other things that are a part of your life or make your life better are things you can be grateful for.

Consider starting a tradition of going around the dinner table each night and naming something that each person is grateful for. This not only instills the idea of being grateful, but also helps encourage Kids to spend their day looking for reasons to be grateful.

Step back and let the instructor take over

As parents, we want to protect our children from anything we perceive as a threat or a wrongdoing toward our child. Seeing the instructor correct your child, particularly if you don’t believe your child has done anything to be corrected for, can be difficult. Particularly if your child is sensitive and takes constructive criticism badly, it’s tempting to step in. But it’s better to let the instructor correct your child. This teaches your child that they must respect the authority of other people besides just their parents. It will also teach them to take criticism, to remain humble and learn from others, and to respectfully stand up for themselves if they believe that someone is wrong about them.

Good manners are important in all aspects of life, and parents can work together with their child’s instructor to ensure that their kids grow up with plenty of respect and empathy for others. The sooner you start, the better, but it’s never too late to begin.