I once saw a woman shopping in a store with her young child. One of the cashiers who was helping this little family happened to be an older woman. The young child, staring at the cashier’s wrinkles and slightly saggy skin, blurted out a very loud question for her mother. “Mommy, why is that woman’s skin falling off her face?” Both adults involved became flushed with embarrassment as the curious child remained very confused.
Many parents can relate to this embarrassing story because children do not have perfect manners naturally. Therefore, it is up to the parents to teach the child the “rules” of society – and answer their curious questions. Each society has specific etiquette that must be taught to a child as he or she grows and develops. Teaching your child manners is one of the most important set of skills you can influence completely. Etiquette shapes basic social skills and influences your child’s interactions with friends, family, and future authoritative figures such as teachers and eventually bosses. Manners are the social-survival skills your child needs to get along with people and make important interpersonal connections. Be sure to check out toys that teach social skills at our store. While there are many different levels and categories of etiquette, you must go about teaching your child with the same attitude for all lessons. It’s important to keep some things in mind when teaching your child behavioral skills. First of all, do not get angry at or frustrated with your child. Manners do not come naturally, so children learn based solely on observation. Remember that you are a role model and they will imitate everything you do. Marianne Drew-Pennington, the executive director of West Side Family Place (a Vancouver parent-resource center), says it is important to treat your children with the same respect you expect to get from them. “Children learn primarily by example, so you can’t be rude to them and then expect them to be polite to other people.” Gently teach and correct your child’s mistakes so they learn to imitate calmness and respect. You do not want to turn your child off to learning, so try to be as supportive as possible. In the above example of an embarrassing experience that might frustrate a parent it is important to keep your cool. The mother, once she recovered from the initial shock of what her daughter said to the cashier, took her child aside in the store and explained to her that it’s not proper to talk about other people’s appearances because it could make them feel badly. She then answered her daughter’s questions about the “saggy skin.” You never want your child to be confused because they cannot learn something they don’t fully understand. That’s why you must be very specific when teaching your children. Giving a general instruction such as “behave nicely” will not be effective because “nicely” could mean many different things. Instead, instruct your child on how to do certain things. For example, if you are going to a birthday party, tell your child to thank their friend for inviting them, to keep their cake on their plate, and to eat everything with utensils – not your hands.
Manners can be broken down into many complex groups. For younger children it’s important to start with the basics. Dining behavior, meeting new people, telephone manners, receiving gifts, and hosting are great areas to focus on. These can all be taught through example and fun interactive role playing games. If you can turn something into a fun game, your child will be much more likely to learn. Games are great for catching and holding your child’s attention. If you want to teach dinning manners, an awesome way to introduce certain practices with your child is by having a fun play picnic or a fancy tea party. Let them use real or play utensils to set their picnic spread or table and practice passing food down the table. You can clean up together too and practice saying things like “may I please be excused.” You should also teach your child how to act when they meet a new person. Role play that the two of you are crazy, outrageous characters. You can dress up or do something else fun to set the mood. Then, introduce yourselves to one another. Don’t forget to shake hands and tell the other person your name! As your child gets older they will become more responsible for doing things around the house – such as answering the phone. To prepare your child for such activities a good idea is to get some toy phones that you can pretend “call” your child with.
Birthday parties are also very popular among children. This gathering of people offers many great social experiences. If your child is receiving a gift, they should act grateful and always say thank you. A good way to practice this is to wrap up random, funny objects around the house. You and your child can give these funny gifts to each other and practice saying all the appropriate steps before you find out what crazy item you received! If your child hosts a party they must also learn how to act properly and graciously with guests. Role play parties and other gatherings at home – giving your child the responsibility to make you (the guest) feel comfortable and welcomed. In addition to the above mentioned toys that can aid in teaching manners, many companies have toys specifically geared towards etiquette learning. Just recently a new game for children was introduced to the parenting community
– Blunders – Manners Teaching Game, that is a wonderful comprehensive tool.
Overall, just keep in mind that every child is naturally curious and unknowing about their social world. As a parent, it’s your responsibility to make your child feel safe and happy when they interact with other people. They need to learn what’s appropriate and how to communicate with others. With dedication a little bit of creativity, any parent can bring their child great knowledge and success!
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