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Teaching Manners to Children: Learning "Nice" Words

There is a place for "Please" and "Thank You" in your preschooler's vocabulary

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Mother and daughter talking at breakfast table
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Is there anything nicer or more pleasant than coming across a child who is polite? You know the kind I mean. One that says "please" and "thank you" without being prompted -- maybe she even asks to be excused from the dinner table. He's one that every parent wants to invite over to have a playdate for their child with and girl whose parents you always offer to carpool with.

Believe it or not, your preschooler can be that child. Really. Although it may seem like a near-impossible task, teaching manners to children doesn't have to be a stressful endeavor. With a little time, patience and some good grooming of your own, you'll soon have a child that will be advising Miss Manners. Here's how.

The key to teaching politeness is to start small, start early and be consistent -- in your own behavior. You are your child's first and most important role model. If your 3-year-old hears you saying, "Please pass the potatoes," or "Thank you for the wonderful gift!" on a regular basis to a variety of different people -- themselves, friends, family and strangers alike -- then it's very likely that she will follow suit on her own accord. (And realize that this is true for teaching manners to children and any life behavior that you'd like your child to follow.)

But even with you pledging to be on your best behavior on a regular basis, there does need to be some teaching and explaining involved -- manners can't be learned strictly by osmosis. Start at home and with the daily interactions that you and your child have each day. In any instance where manners should be used -- the dinner table, any social exchange, even in pretend play with dolls or trucks -- use manners and point out to your little one that you are doing so. Encourage him to follow suit.

As she gets comfortable with these new words in her vocabulary, you can start encouraging her to use them in social situations. Even a young preschooler can comprehend that after someone gives them something, "thank you" needs to be the automatic response back to the giver, whether it they are receiving a birthday present at a party or a juice box from the refrigerator at snack time.

Certainly you should teach your child to say "thank you" in any situation that it is appropriate, but to start, showing appreciation for a gift is probably the easiest and most natural social setting for them. Explain to your child that saying "than you" is a way to tell a person that you are thankful and grateful for what they have done or given.

To explain the word please to your little one, talk about how it's an important word that tells people that you need help -- either doing something or needing something and by using it, people are more likely to lend a hand. If your child seems to understand and is consistently using "please," and "thank you," you can start with "you're welcome" and "excuse me."

An important part of teaching your child manners is to heap on the praise when they use the correct word or phrase and to not necessarily scold them if they don't. Simply point out that they need to use the appropriate word and move on. They'll catch on soon enough.

The reality is, most kids won't be able to purposefully use "nice" words by the time they are four. They may say the words, but not necessarily understand the meaning behind them. That's OK. The important thing is that you've started. Emily Post would be pleased.

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