By Rosanna Dude
The approaching holiday season is an ideal opportunity to emphasize manners, thoughtfulness, respect and gratitude. This time of year is full of large family get-togethers, gift exchanges and traditional meals — all of which provide a wonderful chance to focus on thankfulness and polite communication.
Clare Morgan, director and head pre-Kindergarten teacher at the Wilmot Learning Place in Wilmot, N.H., believes that 3 to 6 year olds are the ideal age to teach manners. “At this age, they are most influenced by their parents and anxious to please,” she says.
So take advantage of each meal to encourage using please and thank you, and practicing patience sitting through a meal. Let each gift received be a chance to express real gratitude. The holiday season can be busy and chaotic for all families, and focusing on kindness and manners is a great way to add a little calm to an otherwise overwhelming time of year.
Morgan affirms that the most effective way to teach good manners is to model them. Our children are watching and imitating our actions and will most likely grow up with similar priorities to our own. “Children learn by observing, so adults need to lead by example and model appropriate behaviors,” she says.
For example, use holiday meals or gatherings as an occasion to turn off your cell phone. Instead of checking email, texts or talking on the phone, demonstrate to your child the importance of spending time with one another and truly pay attention and cherish the time in each other’s company. “In the age of social networking parents need to remember that it is not polite to always be on the phone or computer. We are getting into a generation who are out of practice in face to face interactions with one another,” she says.
Morgan reminds parents that an essential part of teaching good manners is to praise your child when they use them. And the most effective form of praise is to be specific. So when you compliment your child on their use of manners, briefly explain exactly what your child did that was kind and polite. For example, say, “John, it was very kind when you shared your truck with Taylor.” This reinforces in your child’s mind and memory that their precise action was correct and it will have greater impact.
Teaching manners can be an opportunity for fun. Why not have a monthly fancy dinner night? The whole family can dress up and practice being extremely polite and well-mannered. Eat by candlelight, teach your kids to pull out chairs for each another, use cloth napkins, have your children put them in their lap, use salad forks and soup spoons, ask your children to “please pass the…” Make the entire experience a special one, but also make it a tradition so that being polite becomes second nature.
Incentives are always an effective tool. Put a marble in a jar every time your child does something thoughtful or expresses gratitude and says thank you without being asked. When their jar is full, let them pick the family movie or board game. This will motivate your child to remember their manners in the short term but, if continued, their etiquette and behavior will become a natural part of their character.
“Children who are taught manners at a young age will have them ingrained as part of who they are as they grow into adults,” says Morgan. By teaching your child manners and emphasizing kindness, respect, gratitude and thoughtfulness, you are truly giving them the gift of excellent social skills. It is not simply that they will grow up knowing to put their napkin in their lap or to say please and thank you. Young adults who are able to express themselves politely will have the ability to feel comfortable and confident in any social setting. It will prepare them for social functions and they will stand out in the professional world. You are truly setting the stage to make them remarkable adults.