Minding your P’s and Q’s…Teaching Children Manners

With the holidays quickly approaching, children and adults will likely encounter plenty of opportunities to mind their manners. From dinner parties and gift exchanges, to sharing your home, toys and space with family and friends, the holiday season is especially trying for young children and parents alike. With this in mind, let’s explore a few, simple things you can do to teach your children about manners.

Table Manners

By the time kids reach the age of 3, they should be able to eat with a spoon or fork, sit at the table for about 15 minutes, and use a napkin to wipe their mouth. This behavior may require plenty of reminders and a great deal of training. A great tip for parents who struggle to keep their children at the table for more than a few minutes is to consider serving them dinner in courses, rather than putting everything on their plate at once. Once your child is finished eating, instead of jumping down from the table to play, ask him to say, “May I please be excused?”

Remember, one of the best ways to teach children manners is to model the behavior. Do you always say “please” when asking someone to pass the salt? Do you stand when eating your food, or do you make it a point to sit at the table? Over time, your children will do what they see you doing.

Please and Thank You

Teaching children to routinely use the words “please” and “thank you” begins at an early age. Long before they can talk, babies can learn to communicate these words using simple sign language. Once they find their voice and can verbalize what they want, they will need plenty of cues and reminders such as: “What should you say when you want something?” or “What do you say when you receive a gift?”

Politeness with Adults

Teaching children proper manners around adults – including strangers – is a skill that takes a while to develop, especially if your child is shy. When your child is talking to an adult, remind him or her to look directly at that person’s face and say hello. If the adult asks your child a question, you may need to help provide an answer, remembering to praise him or her for a job well done.

Interrupting can be another problem. When adults are speaking to one another, it’s important for kids to learn not to interrupt unless there’s an urgent need. A great way to teach kids not to interrupt is to come up with a silent signal – like gently touching your leg – if they need you when you’re talking on the phone, for instance. You can respond by touching your child’s hand, which signals that you’ll be with her shortly, either when there’s a break in the conversation or when the call is complete.

When your kids visit someone else’s home, remind them about the importance of sharing, asking for things using the word “please,” and always thanking the host before leaving.

Politeness with Peers

While it’s important for your child to be polite in the company of adults, it is equally important to learn these same social graces when interacting with their peers. Sharing is often a tough issue among toddlers, so parents often have to play the role of referee during play dates. A great way to work on sharing with small children is to choose two similar toys and help them offer one to their friend. You can coach your child by saying, “We have two trucks – a fire truck and a dump truck. You may play with the fire truck and let your friend play with the dump truck. After a little while, we’ll switch so that you both can have a turn playing with each truck.” When sharing goes awry and physical behavior such as hitting, pushing or biting occurs, step in immediately. If your child is the offender, you might say, “Hitting hurts our friends; let’s help him feel better by telling him that we’re sorry.”

Remember, learning manners takes time, so be realistic about your expectations. Try not to get discouraged when your child decides to bury his head and frown at the grocery store clerk – instead of smiling and saying hello. Simply use the opportunity on the car ride home to discuss the interaction and role-play future conversations. Your child will eventually learn to respect others and grow up to be a gracious adult.

Etiquette expert Emily Post said that manners are “a sensitive awareness to the needs of others.” With patience, consistency and positive examples, we can teach children to think of others first. It’s a great skill for life.

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