Mind Your Manners: Helping your preschooler mind theirs
If you are holding your precious bundle of joy in your arms thinking that she has a long way to go until you’ll talk about manners, think again. Teaching your child to talk and behave politely starts early. Or so it should, says Judi Vankevich, best known as “Judi The Manners Lady,” an award-winning family entertainer, and president and founder of The Manners Club based in Vancouver.
“Babies and young toddlers who are not yet talking can be taught manners through sign language,” says Vankevich. “Their little hands can be encouraged to learn the proper signing for ‘more’ or ‘please’,” Vankevich says. But, she explains, don’t forget to acknowledge your children’s polite behaviour. Praising them for using their nice words and for being polite will reinforce good behaviour and boost their self-confidence.
Where do you start?
We want our children to be polite, well-mannered, and pleasant to be around from an early age. Having just dealt with a tantrum your three-year-old threw for the second time in one afternoon, you may feel that you are fighting a losing battle. “Polite” may not describe a toddler during her wildest moments, but there is hope, according to parenting experts. If you start early, that is.
Kathy Lynn, parent educator, emphasizes that teaching manners should start early in life. “Ideally, children should be introduced to manners as soon as they start talking, but parents have to be aware of their children’s abilities and level of understanding,” Lynn says. While a two-year-old may not be expected to say ‘thank you’ and ‘please’ every time, a preschooler should remember to say it most times, she adds.
Where do I start? you may ask. According to both Lynn and Vankevich, one of the most important steps in teaching manners to your child is to lead by example. “Children notice things right away,” says Lynn. “You cannot forget your manners and expect your child to remember hers,” she points out.
As soon as your children start interacting with others, she must be introduced to “The Golden Rule,” as Vankevich calls it, which is “treat others the way she would like be treated.” The Manners Lady, who has recorded it as the “Golden Rule Rap!” emphasizes that parents should remind their children that our good manners help other people feel special and appreciated.
Nice to meet you, too
Most of us have no problem meeting new people or greeting people we know. Things are different for toddlers and preschoolers. “Two-year-olds may not be remembering to say ‘hello’ or they are simply too shy, but by the time they are three or four, they should be able to greet people properly,” Lynn says. Both experts agree that role playing is a very important tool in teaching young children how to greet people.
“Parents can have fun teaching their children how to introduce themselves properly, by looking into that person’s eyes, smiling, shaking hands and saying hello in a nice and clear voice,” explains Vankevich. “Remember, shyness is not an excuse for rudeness,” Vankevich says. A helpful trick, she adds, is to play a little game called, “What colour are their eyes?” Ask your young children to look into the person’s eyes in order to tell you later what colour they are! Suddenly, your child is looking into people’s eyes. Play pretend with your child often so she will feel comfortable when meeting someone. “Preschoolers three and older should be able to say ‘hello’ and answer a few questions if necessary, but don’t overdo it,” advises Lynn. Treating people with respect should never become a boring chore.
Most people think table manners apply to the way we sit around the table to have our meals. And that is by all means an important part of it. But there is more to it than just eating nicely. Children should also help setting and cleaning up the table. Even young children can be given age-appropriate chores such as setting the table, minus the knives, of course, and taking their plates to the kitchen after they are done eating, as soon as they are able to hold a plate in their hands. Waiting patiently for a meal to be served, whether at home or in a restaurant, may not seem realistic for a two-year-old but should be expected from three-year-old and older children, says Lynn. Carry a few crayons and a piece of paper with you when dining out, or opt for taking your young children for a short walk while waiting for food to be served.
Few parents have been spared the embarrassment that followed their children’s rude comments about someone’s cooking. Role playing is once again an important teaching tool. The first rule is that all food that is served to them should be tasted and they should also know that not all food will be their favourite. If they dislike the food, children should tell you that in privacy. And if they say it out loud, treat it as a mistake, rather than rudeness, advises Lynn.
Preschoolers are still learning about the world around them and just because they know their nice words it doesn’t mean they have mastered all the skills of civilized social interaction. Saying “thank you” after being served a meal should become a habit as early as possible in life. The same goes for “May I be please be excused?” But don’t just teach it to your child, explain to her that people feel respected when she is respectful and grateful. Remember to do the same if you have to leave the table.
Raising a polite child, and a polite young child at that, is possible. Model the kind of behaviour you want to see in your child and be consistent with the rules whether at home or somewhere else.
Make it fun, advises Vankevich, if you want children to be responsive and learn manners the fun way. Whether you invent your own games and songs or you listen to already recorded CDs the most important thing is to show your child that being polite is a privilege and makes one pleasant to be around and fun to play with. More, please?
– by Daniela Ginta