How many times have you been at a big family gathering or were dining out, and your little one does something that makes your jaw drop? Our children aren’t trying to be rude; they are not born with manners. Good manners are learned behavior. Manners are a critical skill for children to develop and practice as they help them build relationships with others and help achieve success later in life. It is up to us as parents to teach our kids the social norms around being polite, respectful and considerate of others.
As you head into the busy season of social gatherings, here are 5 ways to instill good manners and politeness in young children:
#1 Be the Model
One of the best ways for children to show courtesy and respect to others is to observe these behaviours happening around them. This is especially important during toddler and preschool years, as kids this age are constantly observing and learning from everyone they see. As parents, we are often around them the most so we are who they will model their behaviour after! If your children see you greeting the crossing guard each morning with a smile and a hello, and hear you using please and thank you when you order your coffee, they will start to follow suit.
#2 Practice Makes Perfect
It takes time and consistency to develop a habit, and we want manners to become a habit that our kids do without thinking. Make sure all caregivers are on the same page as to what is expected when it comes to manners and politeness. You don’t want your child to get mixed messages. Be prepared to give your child many reminders to use their manners. This consistency about expectations will help make these behaviours stick! Next time your preschooler asks for milk and forgets to say please, say “pardon me” or “I think you forgot something” or even “don’t forget to say please.”Continue saying this until they clue in and add a please onto their every request.
Books are such a great tool for parents to teach and demonstrate abstract skills – including good manners – to their children. I recommend including some of the books suggested below into your bedtime story rotation. You can use the lessons in the story to have a natural chat with your kids about good manners (what they are and why they are important) and you can also refer back to the stories and characters when you are helping your children learn and use their manners in real time.
Some of my favourite titles for children aged 2 to 6 include:
Excuse Me! A Little Book of Manners, by Karen Katz
Llama Llama Time to Share, by Anna Dewdney
My Mouth is a Volcano, by Julia Cook and Carrie Hartman
How Do Dinosaurs Eat Their Food?, by Jane Yolen and Mark Teague
#4 Make Manners Fun
One of the most effective ways for children to learn is through play. Play provides kids a natural opportunity to practice and master new skills – so why not turn manners into a game. Pretend play experiences give kids the opportunity to practice language and social skills. Set up a tea party with your child and their stuffed animals and make a point to have teddy politely ask for more tea with a please and thank you. Also, if you have a kid who is constantly interrupting you (not good manners!), teach them the squeeze. The squeeze is a simple tool for your child to use when they want to tell you something but you are in the middle of a conversation. Teach your child to come over and squeeze your hand and then you squeeze their hand back – this is a code between you and your child acknowledging that you know they have something to share and that you will give them your full attention when you are ready.
#5 Preview & Prepare
On your way to the play-date or dinner at grandma’s house, remind your kids that manners and politeness are important and will be expected – giving them tangible examples of what you expect. Previewing the behaviours that we would like our kids to show at the event provides a gentle reminder of what is expected and sets them up for success. “Grandma may have a gift for you. Remember to say thank you.”