When my oldest son was a preschooler, we were at a birthday party. We were waiting for our turn to hit the piñata, when I saw a man in front of me tell his children to move to the back of the line so the younger children could go first. Although my son was one of the younger kids to which this dad was referring, I immediately felt ashamed.
As we stood in line, I had been urging my son to push ahead so he wouldn’t miss his turn. I was teaching him to behave in a manner that was the exact opposite of how I want him to behave as an adult. I want my son to be a man with a servant’s heart, one who places others before himself.
It is never too early to begin teaching children good manners. Children who practice good manners live out the Biblical traits of respect and kindness toward others and they are often treated in kind. These children stand out from the crowd, not only because of their behavior, but because of the confidence that comes from knowing what to say and how to behave in any situation. Teaching your preschoolers good manners is a gift you give them for childhood and beyond.
Here are 5 manners your preschooler should master:
- Greetings and Goodbyes: In addition to learning simple greetings such as, “Good Morning,” “How are you?” and “Nice to meet you,” preschoolers can also learn how to shake hands, look at people who are speaking to them, and answer questions loudly and clearly. Older preschoolers can be taught to ask appropriate questions and compliment others. Start by prompting your child with statements like, “Isn’t Mrs. Jones wearing a pretty hat? I wonder where she found it.” When it comes to conversation with non-family members, some children are more hesitant than others. This is an area where it is important to know your child. Is your child simply being stubborn or is he painfully shy? Know your child’s limits, and be patient as you help him learn to interact with others.
- Please and Thank You: Teaching children to say please and thank you is a no-brainer, but more important than the words themselves is the attitude behind the words. Even young preschoolers can learn that they are not entitled to receive gifts or favors from others; therefore, they should display thankfulness in word and tone.Preschoolers should also begin learning to accept compliments graciously. While it may be cute when a four-year-old says, “I know!” to a heartfelt compliment, that statement is likely to be considered rude if made by an older child. As the saying goes, “Start how you mean to finish.” Preschool is a great time to begin teaching humility.
- Respect for Others and Their Property: Accidents happen. However, a child who frequently hurts her friends or damages property may need a lesson in respect for others. Teach your child how to handle delicate items, and instruct her to always ask permission before touching other people’s belongings. In addition, teach your preschooler to wait patiently, to be polite when interrupting adult conversation, and to be aware of how his behavior affects others. This is an area where you will have to do lots of coaching. Ask questions like, “Do you think this lady in front of us enjoys having her chair kicked?” “Do you see that gentleman reading? Perhaps we should lower our voices.”
- Apology and Restitution: We all make mistakes, and it is never too early to learn how to accept responsibility and apologize for those mistakes. In my experience, preschoolers can learn that different levels of offense require different levels of apology. If your child accidentally bumps into someone, a simple, “Excuse me,” will suffice. If he deliberately hurts a friend, a more elaborate apology is in order. I teach my children to apologize and state the reason they are apologizing. “I am sorry I did not share the toy with you.” Some parents go a step further, and teach their children to ask for forgiveness.
Some mistakes require an apology and restitution. If your preschooler knocks over his juice, you may want to have him apologize and offer to help clean up. If he breaks a friend’s favorite toy, you may want him to apologize and offer to replace the broken item.
Once your child has apologized and made restitution (if necessary), put the matter to rest. In addition to teaching our children the art of apology, we should also teach the art of forgiveness.
- Lend a Helping Hand: Help your preschooler get into the habit of looking for opportunities to lend a helping hand. Have her help carry items, hold the door for others, set up and clean up, or distribute items to guests. On the other hand, it’s also important for children to understand that they should not insist on helping when their help is not wanted. For instance, most preschoolers don’t want help opening their birthday gifts.
How to Teach Good Manners
You don’t need a curriculum to teach your child good manners. Simply make sure you are doing the following in the course of daily life:
- Be a good role model: Children are excellent imitators. I’ve often heard one of my children speak in a nasty tone of voice, and then realized that tone came directly from me. If we are rude, our children will be also. Likewise, if we display good manners, our children are likely to follow suit.
- Practice: Talk to your preschooler about appropriate behavior in different types of situations. Role play in areas where your child is struggling, and needs more practice. Give your child reminders before entering situations where you may encounter a particular problem.
- Require manners at home: Once your child learns to use good manners with parents and siblings, it will be second nature to use them outside of the home. Encourage your child to think about how his words and actions affect family members. Have him rephrase unkind statements. Most importantly, make sure to praise your child when he gets it right.
- Live by the golden rule: My husband often refers to me as the “manners police,” and if you’re anything like me, there are few things more embarrassing than having a child behave rudely in public.
However, even as adults, we make embarrassing mistakes. When teaching your preschooler good manners, extend lots of grace. Remember to treat your child the way you want to be treated.
Carletta Sanders is a loving wife and homeschool mom of four. Her mission is to share information, ideas and inspiration with homeschoolers at each stage of their journey. To learn more, please visit her website, Successful Homeschooling or her blog.