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The ABCs of School Etiquette

Teach your children how to behave properly in school.

The ABCs of School Etiquette

Mind Your P's and Q's

If somebody drops her books and papers in the corridor, it is not geeky to stop and help, especially when everybody is hustling to get to the next class. Also, if you are going through a door and the person behind you is burdened down with books and things, hold the door to let him get through.

School comes along at the worst possible time. On top of experiencing the normal childhood fears, awkwardness, and other growing pains, children are for the first time meeting authority figures who are not their parents and peers who are not their siblings.

It’s a time when a child should be armed with a code of behavior and a positive attitude about manners and respect for others. In brief, a child should know about etiquette.

Unfortunately, etiquette is not one of the subjects that administrators include in the curriculum of most schools.

Consider how life would improve for most students if elementary school provided that missing code of conduct in an orderly and systematic fashion, by an adult other than a parent and with the use of a textbook to give the code weight and authority. The truth is, we have to make up as best we can for this lack.


Bigger, meaner kids who pick on littler nicer kids are all too common today, as they have been in the past. Make it clear to your kids that they never have to put up with physical abuse. If they’re slapped, pinched, or pushed around in any way, they must tell either you or their teachers, and then it’s up to the adults to take care of the situation. (You might want to consider one of those martial-arts training programs that are so popular with children in first grade or older. The good ones emphasize self-defense as opposed to aggressive behavior, and they tend to develop self-confidence.)

Let your child know why bullies act the way they do. The main points you want to make are ...

  • Bullies use threats and force to try to control people by making them afraid. It is the only way they have of gaining acceptance or status.
  • Bullies have no real friends.
  • No matter what they say or do, their behavior is a reflection of their problems, not yours.
  • Don’t try to please or placate the bully or his clique. This is not the kind of group you want to be accepted by. Find others at school who feel the same way; they are the people you want for friends.

While we’re on the subject of bullies, also let your children know that they do not have to share their lunch if they don’t want to. Your child should simply say no, and if someone tries to get it from him or her by threats or force, the child should tell both you and his or her teacher.

Last, it is not abusive, but instead considered part of the school tradition, for older students to treat younger students as second-class citizens. For example, sixth and seventh graders may confine fifth graders to a certain part of the cafeteria or playground. Your child should accept this practice as cheerfully as possible and wait until she becomes a sixth grader. It’s not just older students entirely, but tradition.


Your child tells you that somebody in class is copying answers from his test papers, and he doesn’t like it. Should he tell the teacher?

The answer is, probably not.

Cheating is wrong, and he should not be a part of it. But shielding his paper should do the trick and may even send a message to the teacher without him saying a word. If that doesn’t work, he should get the miscreant alone and say something like “Look, quit trying to crib from my test papers. You know what you’re doing is wrong. Others have noticed it, too.”

In the unlikely event that these tactics fail, the teacher should be notified.

New School

If your child is about to enter a new school, you can be sure that she will experience a certain amount of anxiety about how to behave in the new surroundings. Here are some helpful tips you can pass along:

  • Pay attention to your classmates instead of feeling uneasy because you don’t know them. This way, you will discover who shares your interests about school subjects, sports, and so on.
  • Don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation: “Hi. I’m Julie Thomas, and I just started at this school. I noticed that you really seem to like math class. So do I. What other things do you like to do?”
  • Get involved. Extracurricular activities, like sports and clubs, are an excellent way to get involved with the new school. Don’t be afraid to volunteer. Many, many stars got to the top by starting as volunteers.

Relations with Teachers

If a teacher pronounces your child’s name wrong, tell the child not to make a face. A youngster should never correct the teacher in front of the class. She or he should ask to see the teacher before or after class and explain how “my family” pronounces the name.

Faux Pas

If your child comes to you with a complaint about his or her teacher, don’t take the matter directly to the principal. Speak first with the teacher before deciding whether to take the matter further.

If your child gets blamed for something unfairly, it doesn’t help to argue the issue in front of the class. It embarrasses everybody and only makes matters worse. Instead, discuss the situation with the teacher in private. Your intervention could and should result in a public apology in class.

A birthday, Christmas, or end-of-year gift to your child’s teacher must not be extravagant and should be something that everyone in the class can contribute to. No one in the class should be embarrassed about not being able to afford to contribute. Super gifts are plants or CDs or nice chocolates. An even better idea is for the class to make something for the teacher, perhaps a poster with a signed class picture. Wrap it—and don’t forget to get a card that everyone can sign.

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