Raising a Child With Good Manners
Ages 3 to 5: Progress, Not Perfection
Preschoolers are starting to master their environment by learning how to dress themselves and put away their toys. New understanding and patience mean taking turns becomes a bit easier, and a steady stream of "why" questions can open the door to serious conversations. Decent manners can start to be a habit.
* Use imaginary play. With 3- and 4-year-olds, remembering table manners at, say, a pretend tea party is a fun way to drive politeness lessons home, says Louise Elerding, author of You've Got Manners! "With my grandchildren, it's napkins on the lap, passing to the right, not starting until everyone has a treat, and even introducing guests: 'Hello, I'd like you to meet my friend Bear,'" she says.
Enlist the help of your child's favorite humans and nonhumans by explaining that knights, princesses, rock stars, Grandma, Winnie-the-Pooh, and Elmo all use proper manners.
* Supervise. Sally Larsen, a mom of two and the owner of the kids' hair salon Cuts for Peanuts in Avon, Connecticut, has seen a lot of bad manners from both kids and parents. While kids twirl salon chairs, steal lollipops from the treat jar, and complain to stylists, too many moms read magazines or zone out.
But as your preschooler becomes more mischievous than ever, she needs attention from the manners police -- Mom and Dad. If there's a problem, exert your parental authority. "My attitude is 'I'm the parent, you're the kid, and I'm not negotiating,'" says Larsen, who's made manners a priority for her two boys, ages 7 and 5. "It's not fun, and I guess that's why a lot of the parents I've seen in my salon don't follow through with that kind of enforcement. But we're not here to be their friends," says Larsen.
* Keep adjusting for temperament. Some kids love to show off their manners in the spotlight; others prefer to stand quietly on the side. And almost every child needs time to get used to a new situation, whether it's a music class or a playdate. Some will talk, some will nod; some will say goodbye and thanks with a big hug, others will whisper and flee.