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Start Early: Teaching your Tots Manners
  • It is never too early to teach children good manners. Studies show that even at a very young age, kids are already capable of learning and expressing empathy and concern for others. Teaching manners becomes easier when it is a common practice in the household.

    As social beings, children learn by doing, says child development theorist John Dewey. From birth onward, children are constantly picking up emotional and behavioral cues from the people around them: parents, siblings, caregivers, etc. However, it is not enough to simply tell children what to do and say; showing them by example counts most.

    Take our quiz to see if you know the right way to react to everyday situations in order to train your kids on good etiquette.

    Situation #1: Dinnertime
    You, your husband, and your 2-year-old son Enzo are having dinner. Enzo orders, “Mama, rice.” You:
    a. Give an elaborate speech on politeness
    b. Hand over the bowl of rice and curtly say, “Here.” That should signal that he did something wrong
    c. Respond with, “Sure, Enzo. But only if you say, ‘Please pass the rice’ or ‘Pakiabot po ’yung kanin’”

    Best answer: C

    By the age of 2, kids begin to form simple phrases, looking for ways to apply them. By teaching toddlers to say “Please,” “Thank you,” and “You’re welcome,” you ultimately teach them how to show respect and gratitude. These are short but well-meaning words apt for your tots’ early vocabulary.  Teach them to say “Paki-” as well.

    At this stage, kids focus more on imitating the behavior of adults and older children. When kids see you respond to others with warmth and kindness, they will learn to idealize this and act in like fashion.

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    Situation #2: Wiping kisses
    Your mother-in-law visiting from the U.S. meets your 3-year-old son for the first time. She hugs and kisses him excitedly, but he pushes her away and wipes his cheeks with his shirt. You:
    a. Send him to a corner, which should compel him to think about his ill and disrespectful behavior
    b. Laugh at what happened. Kids will be kids. What can you do?
    c. Apologize to your mother-in-law, then explain to your son how he should behave

    Best answer: C

    Meeting people for the first time may not come as easily to very young kids as it does to grown-ups.  Don’t expect kids to be congenial with every new person you introduce to them.

    However, though children at this age may not always be able to control their emotions and reactions, they should still learn how to behave, especially toward elders or relatives. This helps prep them for future first-time encounters.

    As in the case of the kiss-wiping little boy, apologizing right away to the mother-in-law tells the child that his actions were hurtful. Kids at the age of 3 begin to develop a rudimentary awareness that others have wants and feelings, too. Let them know that saying “I’m sorry” or “I apologize,” even if it doesn’t always undo the harm caused, makes a big difference to whoever was offended.

    Situation #3: Taking turns
    Randy and Richie, your 4-year-old fraternal twins, are playing Cowboys and Indians. They break your favorite flower vase. Both run to you, yelling loud and fast, and placing blame on the other. You:
    a. Become irritated with the bickering and leave
    b. Calmly tell them to stop talking at the same time. You ask one of the twins to speak first, and ask the other to wait for his turn
    c. Punish them both immediately. They can explain later

    Best answer: B

    Waiting for one’s turn is the general rule for a well-mannered person. Teach your children that speaking at the same time doesn’t allow any of them to be heard. If they want to be heard, they have to learn how to listen and wait patiently for their turn to speak.

    Teach them to say “Excuse me” should they absolutely need to interrupt a conversation. They should also learn to show the same courtesy when entering a room, an elevator, or any public place.  Tell them to never push their way in and to be gracious enough to let others pass.

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    Situation #4: Greeting
    You’re having breakfast with your husband. Your 5-year-old son walks in and says cheerfully, “Good morning, Mama!  Good morning, Papa!” You:
    a. Greet him in return and praise him for his cheerful morning attitude
    b. Acknowledge him with a nod. It’s too early to be chipper
    c. Tell him to hurry up and eat his breakfast, or he’ll be late for school

    Best answer: A
    Remind kids that saying “Good morning,” “Good evening,” and “Hello” is the fastest way to acknowledge the presence of others. It also makes people feel welcome and important.

    At this age, children are eagerly cooperative. They are more likely to comply with rules because they want to please friends and adults. Show them other forms of greeting, like shaking hands and pag-mamano.

    Take advantage of your children’s early skills in writing, too.  You can start by posting notes on the refrigerator or on the family message board. A “Take care” or “Have a nice day” doodled with hearts and flowers will inspire your kids to write back with their own short but creative notes.

    Situation #5: Receiving compliments
    Your 5-year-old daughter Trisha is wearing a fairy costume for trick-or-treating. Her daddy looks at her and exclaims, “What a lovely fairy you are, Trisha!” Trisha just shrugs it off, saying, “But it’s an old costume, Dad. This is what I wore last year.”  You:
    a. Explain to her that a simple “Thank you” is the proper way to acknowledge a compliment
    b. Shrug it off. She’ll eventually learn to say “Thank you”
    c. Say “Thank you” to your husband on behalf of your daughter, making sure she hears it

    Best answers: A and C

    It is not every day that children hear how wonderfully a dress fits them, or how impressive their ball game was. Let them know that a smile and a “Thank you” should reward a sincere compliment.

    But sometimes, dictating to kids what to say may not be the right way of teaching them manners. They may see this as a required response: they’ll say “Thank you” without really feeling thankful. Be a good role model by expressing gratitude, sharing generously, and treating others kindly. Children will eventually integrate what they see and experience around them.

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    Situation #6: Tactfulness
    You are at the hospital with your 6-year-old daughter Aimee to visit a sick relative. In the elevator, you see a man with a huge scar across his cheek. Aimee stares at the man and remarks, “He looks like Frankenstein, Mommy!” You:
    a. Cover Aimee’s mouth and hope the man didn’t hear her
    b. Apologize to the man, then tell Aimee that it’s improper to comment on people’s appearances
    c. Ignore the comment. You’re sure the man will understand that kids don’t mean what they say

    Best answer: B

    Speaking ill of other people is impolite. Grown-ups are usually guilty of making unpleasant comments about others in front of their kids. Kids may take this unacceptable habit to mean that it’s okay to say bad things about others.

    Young kids are known for being truthful and straightforward. It is a parent’s duty to help them practice tactfulness and courtesy when making comments about other people. Be a role model in giving constructive criticisms and courteous comments, not backbiting.

    Children at age 6 value their independence. They have a stronger sense of right and wrong. However, they may have difficulty considering others’ feelings at first. Still, they have the growing desire to be liked and accepted. There should be greater focus on giving children a chance to describe experiences and talk about their thoughts and feelings, which they are more capable of doing now. As they grow older, they will begin to focus less on themselves and become more aware of how others may feel or react.


    This article first appeared in the October 2006 issue of Smart Parenting magazine

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