We aren't necessarily born polite and considerate, and even though acting in such a way tends to make people feel good, using "manner words" isn't always second nature. However, being courteous is not only the right thing to do, it also makes life easier. Do yourself, your children and society a huge favor – put in a little effort now so everyone reaps the benefits later.
Why teach kids manners?
Besides the obvious – that manners and politeness should be the norm when interacting with just about anyone – teaching your child manners (and requiring them in your family) gives her important life skills. Betty Bardige, a developmental psychologist, educator and author of Talk to Me Baby! How You Can Support Young Children's Language Development, says, "If a child has control over polite ways of greeting people, responding to a greeting, making a request, denying a request, asking a question and expressing their curiosity, the child has power."
Dr Bardige explains that teaching kids manners is about more than just raising a child who seems "nice." By raising a well-mannered child, "you are giving her access to a way of behaving in social situations that makes her feel comfortable, makes others around her feel comfortable, makes it more likely she will get what she wants and less likely she will be overwhelmed, excluded or not treated with respect. "
As adults, we know that not everyone acts appropriately and that not everyone is polite, and sometimes it's probably not entirely wrong to be less than polite yourself. But think about the majority of your daily interactions. If you hold the door for someone, do they say "Thank you"? If not, do you notice? (You might even be guilty of muttering a sarcastic "You're welcome" if they don't – or is that just me?)
Perhaps more important, by teaching your child manners, you are preparing him to handle new situations and strengthening his social development.
When and how do you begin teaching your child manners?
You can begin teaching your child manners the minute you begin talking to her! To quote the title of an early childhood education program: "More is caught than taught."
What does that mean? "Basically," says Dr Bardige, "kids imitate. As they see adults behaving, they are more likely to follow suit. The important thing isn't just saying 'please' or 'thank you; specifically – it's that you treat people kindly and with respect."
That begins with the way you interact with your little one. It's easy for us to get busy with day-to-day life or frustrated when we're short on time, but it's also not too difficult to make a conscious effort to treat our kids with respect and use kind words most of the time.
Opportunity knocks for good manners
Use simple moments as teaching opportunities to model good manners for you child. Dr Bardige suggests, for example, when your child demands something, such as applesauce, you respond, "Oh, you would like some applesauce, please?" Simple, right? Sure, but it begins cementing and reinforcing the polite way ask for what she wants.
Additionally, as your baby becomes a toddler and your toddler a preschooler, interactive play is a wonderful way to model manners. For example, join an imaginary tea party or a superhero rescue scenario. In both of these situations, you have an opportunity to role-model good manners and consideration for others. "You're not imposing your agenda on the child, but there are codes of politeness that are part of the game," says Dr Bardige. By simply integrating consideration into everyday play, you're showing your little one how to interact.
The bottom line is that by making an effort to teach your child manners, you're not only doing society a favor, but you're doing your child one, too.
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