I just called up to my four year old son, asking him if he wanted soup with his lunch. His response? “No, thank you, daddy.” Now I suppose if I lived in the South, I’d be disappointed he didn’t say “sir,” but here in laid back California, just the “thank you” was a big reward for about 800 days of correcting and cajoling. Kids learn from repetition and consistency. We never let a request come without a “please” followed by a “thank you.” And, we let the kids correct us if we forget. It actually works. My eight-year-old wouldn’t think of skipping those words and she’s always invited for playdates.
I once heard that etiquette is not something you do so that you are following the rules and doing the right thing. You do it as a favor to the other person to put them at ease, to show your appreciation, and to show respect. These are all good lessons for kids. Will it make them actually feel these things? I can’t say for sure, but it feels good when you hear it and I doubt it’s a habit they’ll try to give up later.
Whether you like a “free-spirited” house or a well-disciplined machine, here are some good rules to keep for kids under five to make sure they are welcome guests wherever they go:
- “Please” and “Thank you” are the basic currency of polite behavior. Adults will give a lot of slack to kids who say these two words.
- No shoes on the couch or chairs. This is a particularly hard one to enforce if you let your kids use the living room as a winter season jungle gym. It’s hard to control that impulse, but a lot easier to create a no shoes zone that you always enforce.
- Stand up and shake hands when you meet someone. This is hard for most kids who are timid around strangers. But what an impression it makes when a child knows how to greet someone.
- No swearing – and that means you, Daddy.
- Thank you cards are not a luxury – As of age 4, kids should know that we thank people in different ways for acts of kindness.
It’s often up to you as the parent to other families with like-minded values. It will be easier to teach these and other lessons if your child at this age isn’t spending time with other kids who ignore the basic rules completel
I agree that it must start with the parents setting the example, to include the swearing and saying please and thank you. I have seen many children who don’t have any respect for adults, and their parents wonder why. But the parents are either not setting the example, or are not ENFORCING the rules. Many parents of unruly children don’t correct their children when they are doing something wrong, or they do it only part of the time. Children not only need rules to guide their behavior, but they need consistant rules to avoid confusion.
As for the shoes, I take them off when I come in the house, the kids too. It prevents tracking dirt, mud and leaves all over the house to begin with.
My children are not shy when they meet new people, they will shake their hand and say “Nice to meet you, Mr. ____” My children even use Mr. or Ms. for the first name of the adults, such as “Thank you, Ms. Janet.” I get lots of compliments on my childrens manners, and it’s rewarding.
So, it’s up to you, parents, to enforce the rules consistantly for your children to follow, and also set the example for yourself.