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Is It Too Early to Teach Your Kids Manners?

While it is never too early for adults to model positive behavior, there are a variety of areas in our lives that can include good manners. When and how to teach your child how to behave in these situations will vary depending on their age and development.
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Wouldn't it be nice if good manners came naturally to children? Unfortunately, they do not! Good manners need to be taught, explained and reinforced over and over.

While it is never too early for adults to model positive behavior, there are a variety of areas in our lives that can include good manners. When and how to teach your child how to behave in these situations will vary depending on their age and development.

"Please", "Thank you," and "Excuse me" are simple phrases to start role modeling and teaching your young child. However, there are many different and important areas of life where good manners are not only expected but necessary for success:

• Table etiquette

• Playing well with others

• Respect for other people and things

• Good sportsmanship

• Telephone skills

While it's important for both adults and children to have appropriate behavior and manners in the above situations, it can be difficult to find opportunities to teach and practice with children. Below are some ideas on how you can help your child learn about manners and etiquette, but remember to try and have some fun in the process!

1. General Manners:
Begin modeling positive behavior as soon as your child is alert and attentive -- the earlier, the better. Teaching them to use the "key five phrases" whenever appropriate is the most basic way to start: Please, Thank you, You're welcome, Excuse me and I'm sorry.

Use these phrases at all times and have your child use the phrases when appropriate as well. Avoid letting them get away with demanding something. Let them know that a demanding statement such as "I want a snack" is not polite. Instead, ask them if they can think of a nicer way to ask for a snack, and offer support if they are having difficulty.

This will help them learn to use appropriate phrases at the proper times. You could say, "May I have a snack, please?" while explaining that asking for something is much nicer than demanding. If you do this with all of the five key phrases, just keep repeating and role modeling these phrases, and your child will eventually get the hang of them!

2. Table Manners:
Preschoolers will make a mess at the table... it's inevitable. Try to ignore the mess and start instilling other good table manners. Once they have better control of utensils, they should be capable of having well-rounded table manners. First, have your children wash their hands before all meals and snacks. This helps keep everyone healthy at the table. Have them remove hats, keep their elbows off the table, chew with their mouth closed, and say "excuse me" when a burp slips out.

3. Playing Well with Others:
This is such an important time for children to be learning how to play with others, as they are entering preschools, day cares, play groups, lessons, etc..

Skills like how to share toys with children, asking to use a toy instead of taking something out of another child's hand, waiting their turn in line for a toy, and using words instead of pushing or hitting are important to help your child get along in preschool and beyond.

Explain why waiting in line is important, and ask how they feel when someone takes their toy without asking or "hogs" a toy all day. Helping them understand empathy or how the other child would feel if they did those things will help them get along better with others.

4. Respect for Others and Things:
Remembering the " Golden Rule" works well here. Teach your child the rule, "Treat others as you would like to be treated." This also relates to their personal items and toys. As always, teach by example in your life as well, with your spouse, friends and belongings.

5. Good Sportsmanship and Phone:
Both of these specific areas will come a little later in life, after preschool, but it's never to early to talk to your child about these areas. Answering your phone in a nice manner, asking who's calling, and asking them to "hold please" while you let other people know they have a phone call are a few examples. If you witness good or even bad sportsman like conduct, explain this to your child. At home, have all players shake hands and say, "Nice game" after a board or sports game.

Try not to make a big deal out of correcting inappropriate manners. Correct kids' manners only once or twice during a short amount of time, and continue to reinforce the correct manners by role modeling. When a situation arises, be sure to explain the consequences of their inappropriate behavior. This helps their understanding of why their actions are hurtful.

Lastly, try to give positive attention and reinforcement to only good behavior and manners, and resist attention to bad behavior.

Here are a few books that address manners in a kid friendly and fun way. Take a trip to your local library and check them out!

1. Froggy Eats Out by Jonathan London

2. Mary Louis Loses Her Manners by Diance Cunco

3. How Do Dinosaurs Eat Their Food? by Jane Yolen and Mark Teague

4. Madeline Says Merci by John Bemelmans Marciano

Elissa Sungar is a regular o contributor to The Wisconsin native, and a recent transplant to Denver from California, Elissa is an educator and is the co-creator of , a free website that offers easy in-home educational activities for young children.