By: Dr. Susan Bartell
We have always heard that manners are the cornerstone of civilized society, and of even greater value, they teach a child to have respect for, and to appreciate others. By beginning to learn and then master the central tenets of respect and appreciation, your child will grow up without feeling entitled to have every demand or desire met. Teaching your child manners will not only allow them to have a far easier time navigating the social landscape, but give them the skills and sensitivity that will be valued by bosses, teachers and partners as they grow. Finally, you will be grateful that you put the effort into teaching your child manners because you won’t dread bringing them to restaurants, on vacation or out with friends and family—children’s manners reflect on parents!
Many parents wait until a child is school-age before beginning to teach them manners, but, it is actually important to begin long before this—in most cases, soon after your child begins speaking, around eighteen months. At the beginning, children don’t have the cognitive or language abilities to understand the needs of others or the importance of manners. Rather, they simply need to learn by rote.
The first skill to teach is ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. Whenever a young child asks for something, don’t give it to them until they say please; and remind them to say thank you, after receiving it. Young children need a lot of reinforcement and repetition, which means that you will have to do a lot of reminding and reinforcing. However, your effort is worthwhile because “please” and “thank you” communicate to the child that the other person is not obligated to give one what they want—it is a request rather than a demand.
To this end, Baby’s First has introduced Molly Manners, a unique doll, designed specifically for young children, that can support your efforts to teach and reinforce good manners. Molly sings a cheerful song to inspire and promote good behavior in kids. She is a great reminder of the importance of being willing to “put a smile” on someone else’s face. Molly also offers a parent the opportunity to begin conversations about manners and helps guide them to use creative play to teach manners to a child. Molly can “interact” with other dolls, stuffed animals and people, as she shows that she cares and shares. Through play, she allows a parent to show the kind of behavior they want their child to emulate.
Molly’s little song repeats with every hug to her tummy and, if mom or dad need a break from Molly’s singing or want to put her in the washing machine, the sound module can be removed from its Velcro pocket, and then just as easily placed back in it. Since Molly is washable, she can be a welcome addition to the dinner table to reinforce good table manners. She can be washed easily, and will be fresh and clean after a dinner of spaghetti or a dish of chocolate ice cream! This is valuable because teaching table manners is of importance as soon as your child is physically able to use utensils appropriately, rather than using their fingers. They can be asked to sit, rather than stand at the table, use a napkin and not talk with food in their mouth. At first this will be challenging, but with time and reinforcement they will learn these skills, which will be essential at all stages and places in life. It is important to understand that your child will not just automatically pick up these skills. You must be vigilant and consistent. They will have to be taught and reinforced frequently throughout childhood.
As your child moves beyond the youngest toddler years, the next set of manners to teach are patience and not interrupting. Young children find it very hard to wait, so teaching these skills might take time and consistency, but it is well worth it because people who are impatient or don’t wait their turn are not well liked—even as children. As often as possible, ask your child to wait for their turn and remind them to share. In addition, don’t permit them to interrupt your conversation with others unless it’s an emergency. When your child behaves appropriately, be sure to reinforce their excellent manners.
By preschool, you can begin to teach your child how to politely greet other people with a handshake, eye contact, and by saying hello in a loud enough voice. Shy kids can still learn to give a quick handshake or wave and to whisper hello, even if it is difficult. It is very helpful to practice and role-play polite greetings in order to help your child become more confident in using manners. Again, Molly may be helpful in this play. She is an unintimidating partner, so a child can practice greeting her in a confident voice, with a handshake and a smile. In addition, it is beneficial to voice expectations to your child before heading into a real-life social situation. For example, before going into a restaurant, discuss your expectations for sitting, talking quietly, and eating with utensils. Similarly, before going into someone’s home, remind your child to be polite, to help when asked, and to say thank you when leaving. It will be necessary to frequently reinforce good manners and to follow through to make sure your child does what you expect. When teaching and reinforcing good manners, be sure to do so calmly, positively and to avoid being critical. Keep in mind that these are new skills for your child and it will take time to learn them—possibly well into elementary school. You might want to encourage your child to take Molly along to social settings because, even with the sound module removed, Molly’s presence will be a terrific reminder of the importance of using manners.
Finally, the very best way to teach manners is to model them yourself and to explain to your child why it is important to be polite, even when one is angry or frustrated. You should also point out other people who are or, just as importantly, who are not using good manners. The time and effort spent to teach your child good manners will pay off for years to come, and the sooner they start learning the better!
Dr. Susan Bartell is a nationally recognized child and parenting psychologist, consultant, speaker and author. For over twenty-five years she has been guiding parents to raise happy, healthy and well-adjusted children by helping them to understand the developmental needs of their child at every age and by providing strategies to help parents and children through challenging times at every stage of childhood.
To reach Dr. Susan Bartell: (516)944-5856 | www.drsusanbartell.com