When it comes to the behavior of young children, the subject of manners is of concern to daycare and preschool staff. In preschool and daycare centers, early childhood educators are interested in understanding what is considered acceptable behavior in public, proper table manners and other manners of etiquette.
Bonnie Harris author of Confident Parents, Remarkable Kids: 8 Principles for Raising Kids You’ll Love to Live With [AdamsMedia, 2008], answers a few questions about teaching manners to young children in our 2 part interview.
OwnADaycare: At what age is it best to begin teaching manners?
Bonnie Harris: Around age two parents can begin using please and thank you in a teaching fashion. The child learns to say please and thank you by rote only, but it becomes a habit when started early. But it’s important to realize that any teaching around 2 and 3 should not be expected to result in the correct behavior. Learning must be internalized before it is an automatic response. Reminders will be needed.
OwnADaycare: Please describe what behaviors are appropriate for children age 3-5 in the following areas:
- Meeting and greeting others
- Learning acceptable public behavior
- Improving table manners
- Developing friendship skills
Bonnie Harris: This is completely dependent on the temperament of the child. Outgoing, extroverted children are usually delighted to meet and greet others and can be expected to sometimes wait until someone is finished talking to say hello between 4 and 5 (should be reminded circa 3). A 3 yr. old is still pretty impulsive and should not be expected to understand patience. Shy, introverted or more anxious children should not be expected to greet others “politely”. It feels too scary to them. Parents can say it for them, so they watch the behavior without the stress. Acceptable public behavior is really up to the parent knowing the child and what she is capable of temperamentally. The 3 yr. old is likely to be impulsive so teaching public behavior, table manners, taking turns, etc. can begin BUT NOT BE EXPECTED at this age. This is the key: Teaching and modeling appropriate behavior may take awhile before the child is able to follow the lead. But it is getting internalized long before it should be expected behavior. Expecting to see the behavior you have taught sets a trap for parents. If the expectation is not met, chances are the parent will react negatively, which then sets the course for the child to feel unacceptable and therefore behave accordingly. Sharing toys with friends and interacting well should not be expected at 3. The 3 yr. old’s cognitive development means that to give a toy to another child means losing it. He does not go further with that thought. The 4 yr. old can understand that if the other child has it for awhile, he will get it back again. “Taking turns” is better language to use with 3 and 4 yr. olds as sharing is a difficult concept. Again, you can begin the process with a 3 yr. old but he should not be reprimanded if he is upset about another child having a toy he wants. This is normal child development.
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