Teaching your child how to act in a variety of situations is a crucial part of helping him or her develop social skills. Here are some tips for instructing your child to use good manners and to behave appropriately.
First and foremost, never forget that you are your child’s primary role model. Your lessons about behavior will sink in more effectively if your child sees you practicing what you preach. For instance, go out of your way to use extra “please’s and “thank you’s” when teaching your child to do the same. Model good manners at the table, too. Let your child “catch” you being good more often than not, and his behavior will begin to mirror your own.
In the same vein, your child will pick up on your less-than-stellar habits. If you lick your fingers at the table, you might never get your child to use a napkin himself. If you are rude to waitstaff or bank tellers, your child may learn to speak to service personnel similarly. When your child does see you act in a less-than-ideal way, explain that you made a mistake. When possible, let him see you apologize.
A concrete set of rules in your home will give your child some guidelines for how to behave. Ideally, you should have few rules, but enforce them. If your child is old enough to read, posting a written list of rules on the refrigerator or in another eye-level spot is a helpful reminder. For younger kids, use drawings or pictures to help them remember the house rules.
Broken rules merit consequences. Decide with your partner or spouse how you will dole out consequences for poor behavior, and always make sure that the consequences are logical and appropriate for the bad behavior. If your child leaves toys strewn throughout the house, for example, taking away all of the toys you have to pick up yourself is a logical consequence. Taking away your child’s ice cream after dinner, on the other hand, will not help her see the need to pick up her toys. She may not see the connection, and the punishment will seem arbitrary.
On the other hand, consequences can be positive. If your child is extra-helpful around the house, allow her to choose a few previously confiscated toys to bring back into her play area. Positive reinforcement matters just as much as negative reinforcement! Recognizing when your child is playing nicely or using his manners will encourage him to do so more often, because he loves your attention.
Besides making sure the consequences fit the situation, you should make sure that they aren’t too strict. After all, kids do make mistakes, and your job as a parent is to guide them toward better behavior, not to break their spirits or confuse them. Time-outs, for example, should last for about one minute for each year of age. A forgotten “please” requires nothing more than a gentle reminder. Extreme rudeness or cursing, on the other hand, may earn your child a trip to his room for the evening to play alone, but it doesn’t really merit a month-long grounding. Being overly strict can backfire and keep your child from trusting you.
Start teaching your child about good behavior early on, building upon and reinforcing lessons as she grows older. By modeling appropriate behavior yourself and using logical consequences for broken rules or poor manners, you can help your child learn to control his actions and conduct himself appropriately.