Teaching Children Not to Be Rude!

Guest Blog Post by Julia Cook

As a school counselor, I would often have kids come into my office and expect me to wave my magic counseling wand and solve their problems for them.  A good counselor, a good teacher, a good parent gives the wand to the child and teaches her how to wave it herself!

Rudeness is a learned behavior. Infants are born adorable, innocent, and teachable, but they are also selfish since all they know is their own tiny world. Without adults guiding them, they will never grow out of this self-centered perspective and will grow into rude children. It takes a village to help a child realize that the world is full of other people, and other people have feelings.  Having good social skills is necessary for school success. Good social skills affect how the child will do on the playground, in the classroom, in the future work place, and in life in general.

What causes people to be rude?
Before we can help students overcome rudeness and learn to be more caring, it’s helpful to understand why people are rude. According to The Civility Solution – What to Do When People are Rude, by P.M. Farni,  there are 11 causes of rudeness:
  • Individualism and a lack of restraint – I’ll do it my way and I don’t care about what you think!
  • Inflated self-worth – People who are self-absorbed don’t value others except as a means to fill needs and desires.
  • Low self-worth – Being hostile and defensive is often a sign of insecurity
  • Materialism – The quest for money and possessions is more important than showing kindness
  • Injustice –An injustice may create feelings of envy, demoralization, depression, or outrage.
  • Stress – People who are overworked or overwhelmed may be indifferent to those around them.
  • Anonymity – If I don’t know you, it doesn’t matter how I treat you.
  • Not needing others – We are becoming content with electronic isolation
  • Mental health problems
  • Anger
  • Fear
How do we teach children not to be rude?
We fail to guide and protect our children when we don’t teach them manners and respect for other people. One of the most valuable tools that we can give kids is the ability to connect with and relate to others. Rudeness damages others by creating stress, eroding self-worth, creating relationship problems, and making life difficult.  When we are treated rudely by others, we often become vulnerable and self-doubting.  Teaching children to be polite is not an all or none, but a continuum. Teaching a child just one single strategy toward politeness will better that child!
  • Start by setting a zero tolerance for rudeness in your classroom. Explain to your students that it is your job to help them grow to become the best that they can be. Let students know that rudeness is a damaging learned behavior, and you can and will teach them to unlearn it!
  • When you see a child acting rudely, go back to the list above and try to figure out why they are choosing to act that way. If you can figure out the cause, it is much easier to develop the most effective solution. Use incidences of rudeness as teaching opportunities to better your students.
  • Model politeness in every way possible – you are their coping instructor! If you are ever rude, recognize your behavior publically to your class and apologize.
  • Show and feel empathy – based on the cards that child was dealt in life, he may be playing the best hand that he can to win the game of life. Teach children from where they are in the world, not from where you expect them to be.
  • Read stories to your class that model positive behavior that counteracts rudeness. Have students point out how the characters acted rudely and discuss why they may have chosen to act that way, if they knew they were being rude, and what they did to overcome their rudeness.) Often times, if a child in a story book has a problem and learns to solve the problem, the reader can identify with the strategies used in the book and apply them in real life.

Your Thoughts are Private, but Behavior is Public
I often tell kids that “Your thoughts are private, but behavior is public.”  You can think whatever you want to think, but the minute you let your thoughts out of your head through your words or your actions, they become public information. A great visual to explain this is the Toothpaste Squirt.

Toothpaste Squirt Lesson

Materials Needed:
  • Small tube of toothpaste
  • Small plate
  1. Choose one student to come forward and squirt all of the toothpaste onto the plate.
  2. Ask the student if he/she can then put all of the toothpaste back into the tube.
  3. Explain that once the toothpaste comes out of the tube, you cannot get it all back in.  This is much like a put-down or rude comment.  Once a put-down comes out of my mouth and goes into your ears, I cannot take it back.
  4. Go onto explain that for each put-down a human hears, they must hear 10 pull-ups (or sincere compliments) to get back to where they were emotionally prior to the put down.  (i.e. if a child gets 3 put downs in one day, he must get 30 compliments to get back to where he was…30!)
  5. Reiterate that thoughts are private, but behavior is public and the next time you think about giving a put down, think again and screw your lid to your toothpaste tube on tight!
The most important skill that we can teach children to help them succeed in life is the ability to get along with others in society. To do that, it takes a village. If we fail, the rest of the world will let us know, and our kids will be subjected to a life of ridicule, isolation, and despair. As a teacher…you are your students’ coping instructor! Model politeness, say NO to rudeness and keep making a positive difference!

Julia is nationally recognized as an award-winning children’s book author and parenting expert. She holds a Master's Degree in Elementary School Counseling, and while serving as a guidance counselor, she often used children’s books to enhance her classroom lessons. Julia has written dozens of books that teach students to become life-long problem solvers. Many of her books can be used to teach kids not to be rude, including Cell Phoney, My Mouth is a Volcano, Teamwork Isn’t My Thing and I Don’t Like to Share, and I Want to Do it My Way! She enjoys visiting schools and talking with kids; in fact, she's done over 800 school visits! You can learn more at her website, www.juliacookonline.com. Julia will also be presenting two sessions at the Elementary School Conference next week. 


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  2. Great article, thanks!! I've heard of a similar idea with a broken plate and then having the child say, "sorry" to see if it can be fixed, but this lesson seems less dangerous! :). (Q: did you maybe confuse the words 'waive' and 'wave'??)

    1. Tabitha, thanks for your comment and catching that typo. I can't believe Julia and I both missed it! I have corrected it.

    2. No prob. (One more 'waive' in that first paragraph though.) :)

  3. You can use a simple piece of paper. Ask a child to make a paper ball...then ask her to undo the paper ball and try to get rid of the wrinkles...there...wrinkles will not go...just like all the put downs...I guess sometimes that should be done with teachers too...have been seeing lots of bullying coming from teachers.

    1. Nearly two years later... In international schools we really try to get kids to be environmentally aware about unnecessary waste. An entire tube of toothpaste? What a waste! But I could totally do a piece of paper. (well, one from the recycle box!) Thanks for the idea!

    2. Oh, please! One tube of toothpaste?

    3. Wasting something means not using it. This is using the toothpaste in a very positive way and getting much more than it's 99cents worth. If tossing it out bothers you too much, you could always follow this activity with one about oral hygiene, and hand out donated toothbrushes for the kids to dip, use, and take home with a tiny piece of foil or plastic wrapped around the head. Follow this with a gratitude art lesson by having the class make thank you cards with recycled materials for the dentist that donated the brushes. Add a quick spelling test or something and you've got your whole day's lesson plan covered :)

    4. I have to agree. The first thing that popped into my head was the wastefulness. I LOVE the message of the lesson though. However, teaching in a low income area, I hate obviously wasting things- it seems like a slap in the face. Same reason we don't do art projects using food (pasta, rice sensory, etc)

    5. Great idea. I have substituted the toothpaste with a tube of paint. I then followed up the lesson my using the paint to print title hands. We designed a poster that looks like a bottle lying down. Inside, the kids wrote "Don't spill what you can't take back" They displayed this art as part of our class contract. They were quite engaged when I squeezed the tube and told them to try put it back inside... bless I had one 6 year old give it a good try.

  4. This is an incredible post! I love all of these ideas, especially the wonderful visual using toothpaste! Thank you - perfect timing for me :)

    Mindful Rambles

  5. This is a great post. I am sharing it everywhere. Thanks. You covered it all and then gave resources. Brilliant! I was certain you wouldn't get mental health issues as a possible root cause and there it was - in my opinion many educators miss that and if you don't know the reason or the root of what is happening then fixing the behaviour can be a mess.

  6. You never seize to amaze me Julia with your simple ideas, yet so meaningful to our children! Gotta go get a tube of toothpaste! ;) Krissy
    Mrs.Miner’s Monkey Business

  7. I thoroughly enjoyed this post! Thank you for bringing attention to this topic. I agree that the most important skill a teacher can teach is how to get along with others. The 'Toothpaste Squirt Lesson' is such a fantastic idea! It allows children to visually see that their thoughts are private but their words are public. I love the comparison and I will use that reference in my classroom. Thank you very much for providing this information!

  8. Julia Cook's books are awesome. Her books are a favorite at my school. She has even been to my school. We now are using her series of books to cover almost all my counselor topics in 2nd grade, and we have incorportated writing with it, the students all have their own "Cook Book journal"! The thing I like most about the article is that we need to understand the why behind the behavior. If not, we can not really address it as effectively. She is right on!

    1. I totally agree with the'why'! I am not a teacher, but a parent on a5yr old who speaks her mind.... None of my older children were rude like this one, but seeing the list of 'why' behaviors has helped me! My 5yr old is adopted they foster care, she's had a lot of struggles.
      I love the toothpaste analogy, but I know her, this would turn into a game. . Lol. Love the alternate suggestions too. Those who do not want to waste toothpaste, it's a great cleaning tool for faucets! We will do this for a Family Home Evening! Even my adult children and us parents need this one - it can turn into a vicious circle. If we adults don't curb what and how we say things, the little ones Self Worth decreases.. Thank you again!!!

  9. I absolutely love this! About five years ago (when we realized that performance groups didn't want to visit our school due to rude and unruly students) we took a leap from the norm and made self-regulation and fostering positive behaviour the official school growth plan. Over the five years, with wonderful books and diligent reinforcement in many different ways, the culture of the school has changed dramatically. Attention to this is so important and meaningful; it transfers into better learning. Love the toothpaste lesson!
    Whimsy Workshop Teaching

  10. Great idea, the toothpaste and the added comment about a piece of paper. Whish I had those when I was teaching middle school. Not so sure my 3-5 year olds with special needs would understand.

  11. Wow! this post is fabulous! I'm always encouraging my boys to give a feeling back to the people around them. Is very important for them to say "hi" when somebody greets them, etc. It might seem a small thing but is not.
    Thank you for sharing! Need creativity to approach this kind of conversations over and over again.


  12. Great article! I love it all except the toothpaste demonstration. It only took 15 seconds for a kid to come up with a way to get it ALL back in. I would use an egg and break it....there is no coming back from that.

  13. "Mr Peabody's Apples" by Madonna, teaches students the same lesson. It is an excellent story!

    1. Sue, I was just scrolling down to make sure someone mentioned Madonna's book. A must have with this lesson!

  14. I will use this activity. I noticed the post before mine suggested Mr. Peabody's Apples. It was the first thing I thought of when I read your post. These two lessons paired together would be perfect. Can't wait to do it!

  15. Great post! Thank you.


  16. Loved this post then, love it more now. Seems like I have to work a little harder each year on this. I use the term help-ups instead of pull-ups. That makes my fifth graders giggle.

  17. Loved this post then, love it more now. Seems like I have to work a little harder each year on this. I use the term help-ups instead of pull-ups. That makes my fifth graders giggle.

  18. My kindergarten teacher did this to a student.... That was 40 years ago.... and I still remember the lesson! Great lessons last a lifetime! Thank you for sharing.

  19. It will surely be considered when required to perform.

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  22. Hi! I use this example in a guidance lesson. I explain that we are going to be collaborating on a problem solving lesson. I divide the kids into small groups and give them each a sample size of toothpaste and a paper plate. I ask them to work together to create a sculpture. After several minutes I ask them to stop and then we talk about the things we can undo and the things we can't. How can we work together to fix hurt feelings, etc. etc.