I find manners are so very important. Perhaps it is being born and raised Canadian (teehee), but I want my wee ones to know manners and use their pleases and thank yous. Teaching manners to kids can actually be quite simple, and even broken down into 5 steps.
So – how can you teach your kids to be polite?
It is important to focus on one area at a time. We use 5 areas to teach manners in our house.
Here are 5 simple, specific ways to teach manners to kids. I believe almost all manners can be fit into one of these 5 categories:
1. The Skill: Clear Your Plate
Ways to Teach it: This skill can be taught by modelling and encouraging. Young kids want to help. When Sammy turned 3, we made it such a big. special thing that he was now old enough to clear his plate. He beamed after dinner as he carefully brought his plate and scraped it into the garbage. I try to add in big words like “responsible” as he is walking over to the garbage. Once this skill is second nature and doesn’t need any reminding, we add it to other areas in my wee ones life that he needs to take responsibility for.
The Bigger Picture Skill: This skill teaches children to take responsibility for their own things and messes. Since they were solely the one to use that plate, they are solely responsible for making sure it gets put away. This skill can be extended (in theory!) to cleaning up and putting away all of their belongings; toys in the toy box when they are finished, clothes in the hamper when they are dirty, etc.
2. The Skill: Say “Excuse Me” (and wait!)
Ways to Teach it: It is important to help wee ones understand why they should not interrupt. Toddlers and Preschoolers are the center of their own little world – so at first, this manner makes no sense to them : But I want something – and it’s ME!
Helping them to understand this is a bit tricky. If your wee one is beginning to develop empathy you can use them as an example by saying, “when I am talking to you what you are telling me is very important to you, so you want me to listen carefully … when I am talking to Madeline, what she is saying is very important to her, so I need to listen carefully to her too”. Teaching this skill can be done in a game. Grab 3 people: you, your wee one, and an older child or another adult. Pretend to have a conversation (make it silly .. “I saw a hippo at the park yesterday …”) Have your little one say excuse me. Teach your little one to WAIT. This is also tricky. Once they learn the word excuse me it is often, “EXCUSE ME EXCUSE ME EXCUSE ME EXCUSE ME!” We are still at this stage
The Big Picture Skill: Saying excuse me teaches your little one respect. This is such an important skill for little ones to learn. Respect is a life skill that will earn your wee one meaningful friendships and relationships, as they will understand they deserve respect as well.
3. The Skill: Hold Open Doors and “After you”
Ways to Teach it: This one also makes for a fun game at home. I was reminded that I needed to work with my 3 year old on some manners when I had my hands very full (a laundry basket with clothes on one hip and a baby on the other – we’ve all been there!) and I asked my Sam to please open the door for me. He replied with , “Why?” . I responded, “so I don’t drop your brother” which was a good enough reason I guess, because he opened it. After this reminder for myself, we had a big talk about why we open doors and why we let people go in doors ahead of ourselves.
I like making anything into a game, so teaching manners can be one too! We practiced it like this: I would walk to a door in our house to open it and he would try to beat me to it, open it, and say, “after you”. (side note: Sam got so good at this skill! I was in the kitchen and heard him say, “after you” as he let his crawling brother into the bathroom (a door we keep shut because he loves splashing in the toilet … hmmm)
The Big Picture Skill: This skill teaches your little one thoughtfulness and empathy. A huge skill for wee ones! Once your little one has mastered holding open doors, you can easily extend this skill. Sharing is this skills best friend! Your little one is beginning to understand thoughtfulness and thinking of others, which easily leads to sharing and taking turns.
4. The Skill: Smiling and Being Positive
Ways to teach it: This skill certainly doesn’t need to be taught! Wee ones love to smile!! It simply needs to be reinforced. Saying things like, “It makes me feel so happy to see you smile!” and, “You have made my day so much sunnier with your smile” are great. Along with this skill, help your little one learn to look on the bright side. “It is too bad it rained when we were suppose to go to the park – but it will be fun to eat our picnic in the car!” Helping little ones learn to express disappointment, sadness, and frustration are also very important skills. But teaching them to look on the bright side and be positive will get them very far in life. No one likes hanging around a Negative Nancy.
The Big Picture: This skill teaches kids about being grateful. They may not have everything their friends have, but they certainly have many things to be grateful for and smiling about!
5. The Skill: Please and Thank you
Ways to Teach it: Modeling this behaviour is very important. It is easiest for your wee one to learn if you over use it at first. Say Please and Thank you whenever you ask your child to do anything, or when you are speaking to other adults or children. As we know, our kids are always listening! Be specific with your wee one at first , saying, “You would like some apple juice please” and having them repeat it back. After a little while, you can say, “remember your manners” or simply pause and give them a little smirk-ish look until they remember and say please. I have found the trick is to make this fun – not a chore.
The Bigger Picture Skill: This skill teaches children all about appreciation. Being appreciative of others is a very important skill. Everyone wants to feel appreciated and valued. By remembering to say ‘Please’ and ‘Thank you’ you are in essence telling that person that you appreciate the time they are giving you.
When teaching manners to kids it is very important to work on one area at a time. If you try to tackle all 5 areas at once you will likely frustrate yourself and your wee one. Remember to focus on one specific skill until it has been mastered. Revisit this skill when needed, and make changes when necessary. Each little one has unique strengths and needs. Remember to play up your wee ones strengths and cut them a little slack in areas of need.
So — do I have the politest kids in Canada? Umm … probably not even the politest in the neighbourhood. BUT I am raising thoughtful, respectful, appreciative, responsible, and grateful kids. Who are also very creative, imaginative, a little wild … and at times downright rude!
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