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Social Skills in Preschool Children: Teaching Manners

Grandma gives your preschooler an outfit she spent hours picking out, and your little one responds, “I don’t like blue dresses.” Yikes. Better revisit the lesson on manners. Good manners spring from kindness and sensitivity toward other people. Preschool children learn to make behavior choices that show off their good manners in public places and toward peers and family members.

“As a teacher, I know that children are better accepted by their peers when they are kind and respectful,” says Alison Deisher, mother of a preschooler and teacher at Helke Elementary School in Vandalia, Ohio. Preschool children are at the age when they begin to understand acceptable behaviors and why they’re important. Good manners now result in greater success in later life.

Meet and Greet

Saying hello and goodbye is the first step to interacting with others. Your preschooler is old enough to greet friends and family members when they visit your home, according to Deb Chitwood of Livingmontessorinow.com. Before guests arrive, give your child a heads up (for instance: “Remember to say hello to Aunt Mary when she gets here"). Eventually, your child can shake hands when she meets someone new. Show her how to give a firm rather than a limp handshake. When a friend comes to play, teach your child to introduce her to visiting relatives. She should also thank her little guest for visiting. Encourage her to use names and explain that it makes a person feel special.

Cooperation

Children must give and take in social and family settings. Play games with the entire family so your child can learn how to take turns and play fairly. Take advantage of playgroup times to help him understand why some behaviors, such as hitting and interrupting, are unacceptable.

Establish routines at home that help make good manners second nature. If you give consistent gentle reminders to your son to take his plate to the sink after dinner, pick up his toys and dirty clothes and toss his trash, he'll eventually do these things automatically, suggests Erin Dower of Familyeducation.com.

Behavior in Public Settings

Provide plenty of opportunities for your preschooler to learn how to act in public places. “A parent does her child a big favor when she teaches her to behave appropriately in settings such as the zoo, a restaurant or a movie theater. When I take students on field trips, I always appreciate the ones who know how to act at different venues,” says Deisher. Kids should understand that the way they behave on a playground is not the same way they behave in a museum.

RELATED: Manners for Little Kids

Table Manners

Teach your little one to understand and follow rules when it’s time to sit down to a meal. By now, he has learned to sit in his chair and use the correct utensils. But don't overwhelm him: Concentrate on changing one behavior at a time. Remind him to chew with his mouth closed. When he accomplishes that feat, teach him not to talk when he has food in his mouth. Preschoolers sometimes think gross topics are enjoyable dinner conversation. That might work with his little buddies when no adults are within earshot, but he needs to learn that it’s inappropriate. “Having good table manners will keep your preschooler out of trouble in the school cafeteria,” quips Deisher.

Expectations

You are your child’s most important role model, so you need to behave like you want her to behave. Use a quiet voice and maintain a calm demeanor. Say “please” and “thank you” to store clerks and family members. Excuse yourself when you’re getting up from the table. Expect her to use good manners also. Teach her that “please” is always required; it’s not just used as a tool to get something she wants. “When a child writes a thank-you note, she learns to appreciate other people’s efforts,” adds Deisher.

Make sure your preschooler understands acceptable parameters ahead of time. “Jenny, I’m going to call Grandpa. Don’t interrupt me unless you’re hurt.” When she says something inappropriate, help her rephrase. For example, if she says, “Give me that toy truck,” remind her that it’s polite to say, “Would you please hand me the toy truck?” If your children are yelling, don’t yell over them; just remind them quietly to use quiet voices.

RELATED: Restaurant Etiquette: For Parents and Babies

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