Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Teaching Children Manners

My good friend IRL, Dr. Blondie, commented on my post Introductions that she loves kids with good manners. She also asked if we taught Lucas to introduce himself or if he just picked it up on his own.

Rather than write back directly to Dr. Blondie, I thought this topic would make a great post. I do think that Lucas has pretty good manners for a 3.5 year old. And, as with most of our "successes" in parenting, I credit it to a few things.

{Knocking on wood furiously because I am now certain that Lucas will act like a total monster the next time he sees anyone who reads this blog. I also want to make it clear that Lucas, like a typical 3yo, has good days and bad days. Make that good minutes and bad minutes. And, also, we try our best to do everything outlined below. But, like typical parents, we have good minutes and bad minutes ourselves.}

First, set clear expectations.

More than just saying please and thank you, the foundation of good manners is good behavior. When we go places, we almost always discuss the rules on the way there. When going to a friend's house for a play date we talk about sharing. When walking to the park, we talk about sharing the toy we've brought with us and not running over the little kids. (Lucas tends to barrel ahead at full speed and has been known to knock down toddlers less steady on their feet!)

Because I have set clear expectations in the beginning, Lucas (generally) catches on quickly when I have to remind him of the rules. For example, if he does knock into a smaller kid at the park, I am not starting from the beginning explaining why this is not acceptable, I simply have to get his attention and say, "Lucas, remember the rule: careful around little kids." And he understands what I mean. Depending on the infraction, setting the rules in advance also gives you solid ground to leave the park (or restaurant or store) if a rule is broken more than once. Here's the thing: as a parent you must be prepared to leave.

One of our most steadfast rules at the park is that he is not allowed to go past the ring of trees which form a natural boundary between the park and the street. Earlier this summer he went past them once and got a firm reminder. He went past them again and we left immediately. Trust me I didn't want to leave either but that lesson truly stuck in his head and he is much more aware of following (at least!) that rule now!

At dinner (home or at a restaurant), Lucas knows that he has two choices: knees or bottom. This is a long and clearly established rule that he must sit on his knees (he's refused a booster seat for ages so this often helps his reach the table better) or his bottom at the dinner table. All it takes is two words from Abel or me, "knees or bottom" for him to sit back down.

Second, role play. It's a fact that any parent knows well: kids love to role play! And so, it is very easy to incorporate practicing good manners into role play. Lucas loves to pretend to be mama or dada or someone else and "meet" you. I love it, too, because these pretend meetings allow us to practice handshakes, eye contact and introductions. In other role play scenarios, I consciously practice my best manners and find myself speaking in sentences like this: "Excuse me, sir, can you please help me reach that box?" or "Thank you very much. I greatly appreciate you kindness." Yes, I may sound like I'm a character in an olde English novel, but if he incorporates just a fraction of those sentences into his requests or thanks then it is worth it!

Third, set the best example. Although these days it sometimes seems like Lucas is picking up most of his cute phrases from TV, (Or not so cute: apparently Lightening McQueen says shut up in Cars which Lucas informed us when we told him we did not appreciate him saying that.) he really gets the large majority of his language from Abel and me. And so even though we each might get pretty slack in our manners around each other at times, we both do our best to use great manners with Lucas. For example, we use please and thank you and may I to the extreme with Lucas.

I try my best not to take too much credit for the good things Lucas does because that would mean I also have to take lots of credit for the bad, as well! (ha! ha!) But, I will take full credit for the way he introduces himself and others to everyone we meet. He definitely gets that directly from my example. As I've mentioned many a time, a great park is at the end of our block. We're there almost daily and sometimes go twice a day. When we see someone there that I don't know (or who I haven't seen in a while and whose name I forget), I almost always introduce myself and Lucas. This is especially true if they have younger kids because I so keenly remember being a new mom and feeling like I didn't know a soul while everyone else was already best of friends.

In fact, I must do this so regularly that Lucas actually notices if I don't introduce myself to others at the park. One day we were there and I was pushing Lucas on the baby swing (he still begs to swing in it even though he barely fits!). Next to us were three kids who looked like they were about 13. I said hello but didn't introduce myself or Lucas. He was very upset by this and kept saying to me, "Mama, talk to them." "Talk to them, Mama." I kept telling him that I did talk to them, I said hello. But, he kept insisting. Finally, I realized he wanted me to introduce us both and so I did. He got a big grin and cheerfully said hello.

Original post by Smiling Mama. Thanks for reading!


  1. I love it, especially the Expectations. So Supernanny! I'm so excited to know that her stuff works not just on tv.

  2. And, if you're looking for a career change, you could also slide very easily into the role of teacher. These, also, are all practices any good teacher knows to follow!

  3. I love this! I do love rules, and it's nice to hear that you enforce them. Great advice!


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