You’ve probably heard from your parents or grandparents that “kids are just different these days.”
In many ways, that’s very true - there certainly weren’t cell phones, tablets, streaming video, and other technologies targeted at young children even a generation ago! What hasn’t changed is that we all want our children to be thoughtful and well-mannered. Surprisingly, teaching manners to young children can start very early! Very young children – even under a year old – can start saying the “magic words,” cleaning up after themselves, or playing nicely with others. With the shift toward young children spending more of their waking hours in early education centers than at home, teaching basic values is a shared responsibility between parents and your child center staff.
Here are some tips so you can begin teaching manners to your young children today:1. “Say the magic word.”
While it may take some time for your child to learn how to sit still, how to eat without food getting everywhere, or how to clean up their own messes, they can say the “magic words:”
- Thank you.
- You’re welcome.
- Excuse me.
- I’m sorry.
If your child asks for or motions that they want something, ask them to say “please” before you give it to them. Once you do give it to them, have them say, “Thank you.” If they share a toy with a friend and receive a “thank you,” prompt them to say, “You’re welcome.” If they would like to reach for something, remind them to say, “Excuse me.” If they bump into you, a sibling, or friend, remind them also to say, “Excuse me.” If they make a mistake, hurt a friend, etc., make sure they say, “I’m sorry.”
You can also take this a step further and “act out” little skits that would require your child to say these words. If you and your child are playing with stuffed animals or figurines, have the one you’re puppeteering ask for something with a “please” or say “I’m sorry” for taking their spot.
2. Practice playing well with others.
One benefit of enrolling your child in an early education program is the opportunity for your child to get day-to-day practice playing and interacting with other children and adults. Part of your center’s role is to foster a warm and caring environment best suited for your children’s social and emotional development.
Young children need ample opportunities to play and engage with others. This is a perfect time to ensure they’re saying the “magic words” as well as sharing, taking turns, and playing fair. It’s also important that your children learn to keep their hands to themselves, honor when a friend has said “no,” and not engage in hitting or name-calling.
Further, children will need to learn to listen and speak when appropriate and not to speak when it is not. You can model active listening skills with your child and ask them to look at you or the speaker while they are speaking.
In your early education programs, you can ensure that your children practice good manners on a daily basis, whether it be in playing kindly, saying their “magic words,” listening to their fellows and teachers, or in helping to clean up play areas.
3. Make sure to model the appropriate behavior.
Children are very observant; so make sure that you, your teachers, assistants and other staff members also model manners around your children. Say “I’m sorry” if any of your children are upset about not getting something they want. Say “please” if you’d like them to hand you their dirty dish after mealtime and say “thank you” when they do something you’ve asked.
Manners are not something that you can “do what I say, but not what I do,” so model manners both in how you treat your children, but also in how you treat others while they are present.
4. Praise, praise, praise.
Children will go above and beyond to get praise, so any time one of your children shows good manners or says one of the “magic words,” praise them! Tell them they’re doing such a good job at being a good boy or girl or that you’re so proud you have such a well-mannered boy or girl in your center.
You could even create a manners sticker chart. Put it somewhere that is easily seen and every time they do something showing good manners, add a sticker to their sticker chart. When they’ve filled out the complete chart, let them pick a present, whether it be a new little toy or some sweet treat.
At Kindertales, we encourage every center to give their children the confidence necessary to engage with the world in a respectful way. You may not be able to control how manners are taught at home but correcting and reinforcing them at your center will ensure they learn appropriate behavior.
Connect with the author