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How to teach manners

The holidays are approaching and we all want our children to exhibit good manners, especially when the extended family is around.

For young children it is helpful to have practice and walk through what might be happening at a family gathering. A practice run prior to the get-together can help prepare them for a potentially overwhelming event. They need to learn the traditions that to you may take for granted through training, involvement, and experience.

For instance, a meal served buffet style, family style with large bowls on the table, or passing plates to be served from one end of the table to the other may be a new routine and walking through it ahead of time may keep smaller children calmer and more patient while food is being served. Also, explaining the expectations of when they can leave the table or if a toast or prayer will be said before the meal will help them feel involved and more comfortable when they know what is coming next.

In addition to training, manners are taught by modeling, sharing & encouraging.

Kids who grow up in a house where they hear the words “please, thank you, and I’m sorry” will more likely use them as adults.

Instead of constant reminding and lecturing you can share personal examples why good manners are important. For example:

  1. Today I had lunch with a friend and he was talking while he was eating – it was disgusting.
  2. Yesterday I was at the bank and the teller was so polite and helpful, I enjoyed working with him.
  3. This morning, my client called and thanked me for my customer service. He was very appreciative. It is a pleasure working with him.
  4. My sister called to apologize and it made me feel special and loved.

Most importantly, encourage and notice every time your children use good manners, and choose to ignore when they forget to use the “magic” words.

You can say:

  • Grandma had such a big smile when you hugged her and thanked her for the birthday gift!
  • Our waitress really appreciated how polite you were by saying please and thank you while you were ordering.
  • You and your brother really worked out the problem, that was brave of you to tell him you were sorry.
  • I appreciate your patience while I was finishing up my conversation with the doctor.

When children know what to expect, they are more likely to be cooperative and you can be more relaxed and enjoy time with the extended family.

Communicating love through actions

Do you love your child?

I’m sure you do. The question is, does your child feel loved? Saying “I love you” may not be enough. It is better to show that we love our children, as well, through our actions. Consider this story: A child accidentally broke a vase. The mother was very upset. After a few minutes of screaming and yelling, the child asked her “If I broke my leg, would you be that upset?” You don’t want your child to believe that the vase is more important than him. A better way to approach this scenario is to focus on safety first and ask the child “Are you ok? Are you hurt?” or say “Be careful there are pieces of glass all over the floor.” and then focus on cleaning it up together.

Later, you can problem solve with your child and decide together what needs to be done. Maybe he can fix the vase, buy a new one (from his allowance), or agree on how to prevent it in the future. Remember to send the message of love through actions and not just words.

I don’t want to go to soccer anymore

This time of year the newness of the school year is over and the novelty of activities is waning and sometimes our kids inform us that they don’t want to continue with an after school activity like soccer, karate, music, ballet, etc. Since most of the time we are already committed financially to those activities and want our children to follow through, we get frustrated and try to convince/bribe/force our kids into going.

Instead of getting angry, it’s important to identify what you are upset about: that you want your child to learn about commitment, that you don’t want the other parents and kids to see your child as a quitter, or perhaps that the team won’t have enough players without your child?

One option to resolve this is that you can explain that the child has to attend the activity, but he can choose to participate or just sit/watch/cheer the team. We call this parenting tool freedom within limits. The child is not choosing whether to go or not, and has choice over how he/she will participate and at what level.

This solution reduces the risk of getting angry or hurting your relationship with your child. Through the process you are teaching him the importance of being part of the team and honoring his previous commitments in a respectful way.



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