You don't have to be perfect to be the perfect parent!

Practice makes perfect (well, almost perfect)

Ready for a “fancy” tea party!  Manners are much more fun when you “practice” this way!

The earlier socially acceptable and respectful behavior is introduced, the more likely your child will begin to incorporate that behavior into everyday life.  Children will model the most consistent behavior they see…so Mom and Dad, you are on stage!  As parents we need to ignore behavior we think is socially inappropriate, demonstrate the better choice, and use a “time out” for that behavior that is totally socially unacceptable (like hitting or name calling).  Children as young as age 2 are starting to develop empathy and an understanding of feelings, continually modeling empathetic behavior will help your child to behave respectfully, politely, and kindly to others.  Isn’t that a goal all of us have for our children?

How do you begin?

  • Discuss with your spouse or significant other what “manners” will be important in your home.  Just like every parenting issue, you must have a united front.  Your child must have consistency when you are teaching manners.  Do you want your child to call adults by Mr. and Mrs.?  What table manners will be important in your home?  How will you handle inappropriate behavior?
  • Be a good example…talk with respect to each other, use “please”, “thank you”,“excuse me” and “I’m sorry” consistently with your child and others.
  • Practice.  Use pretend play to practice table manners, talk on the phone politely, and share with others.  Role play with your child before going to a play date, how will he or she share?  Practice how to say “thank you” to Grandma when she brings a gift.  Role playing will help teach your child how to react in social situations and will be important all the way through adolescence…What will you do if…?
  • Correct impoliteness immediately with the 3 B’s…Be brief, be specific, and be private…don’t embarrass your child.
  • Read stories about manners and feelings.
  • Be silly.  What would happen if you ate like Cookie Monster?  Silliness is a great way to teach.
  • Introduce an occasional “fancy dinner”.  (In our house that was simply lighting the candles and using cloth napkins)  During a “fancy dinner” everyone uses their best manners and even speaks in “fancy” voices.
  • Reward manners!  Be specific with what you like.  “I like the way you said please!”

With practice a child between age 2 and 3 should be able to:

  • Greet someone with a hello and say good-bye when leaving.  Encourage your child to address others when arriving and leaving.  This is an important skill!  There are some children who are “slow to warm” and may hug your leg and bury their head.  Help them out by saying the words for them, never force or make this a battle.
  • Use the words or signs of “please” and “thank you” with prompting.  This should be practiced every day many times a day.  Again, help your child by saying or signing the words for him when needed.
  • Take turns and share with guidance.  The important word here is guidance.  Developmentally, children at age 3 are capable of sharing, but unless they have been taught how to, it won’t happen.  Help your child trade toys, set timers so that everyone has a turn, point out that it is difficult to share, but how happy this makes others.  Be prepared, there still may be a meltdown, even when sharing has happened in the past.
  • Wash hands before and after meals with help.  A necessary life skill and habit that children catch on to very quickly.  Who doesn’t like to use soap and water by themselves at age 2 or 3?!  Use a stool and “teach” your child the process, relax with the splashes…it is only water!
  • Begin to use a spoon and fork properly.  Remember, children must be provided with the opportunity to learn this!  Often parents forget to begin to encourage this skill.  Between age 2 and 3, most children will also behave better at the table if the tray is removed from their chair and they “sit” at the table with you.  This allows your child to participate in the meal and model behaviors more easily.
  • Sit on their bottom at meal time for about 15 to 20 minutes.  There should be no “grazing” with getting up and down from the table.  However, we cannot expect a child at this age to sit for a 5 course meal at a restaurant either!
  • Help tidy up after playing.  Children by age 2 will happily help pick up toys with you.  Encourage your child to tidy up but make it fun.  Sing a song, beat the kitchen timer, count how many toys you pick up, “feed” the toy box…get creative.

With a little help, even your toddler and preschooler will begin to know what is respectful, socially acceptable behavior which really is more important than knowing where the dessert fork is!  Are thank you notes a dinosaur of the past and what are your feelings about a child’s persistent interruptions?  A couple of parenting topics  to think about for tomorrow!

Take a breath, enjoy the joyful moments of each day, and remember you don’t have to be perfect to be the perfect parent.


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