One of the many fun things about 2-year-olds is that their growing vocabulary allows them to begin to learn to say appropriate phrases at appropriate times. When my nephew was two, his uncle thought it was hysterical that he was teaching little Ben to walk around to everyone at a family party and shake hands and announce, “Nice to meet you!” It was pretty darn cute. They have to start somewhere, right? I now have a two-year-old and, while he has quite a few phrases mastered, there’s one that still comes out of out in left field:
Two-year-old: “ARE YOU OKAY?!”
When I really think about it, that’s a brilliant response. This little guy is witnessing a 100 mph wind coming out of a person’s mouth at a very loud volume and from his instinctual response, he gets the feeling it’s not completely normal.
This gets me thinking about a few things. For one, it’s endearing to see a two-year-old have so much concern that he makes sure I’m okay. I’ll never tell him to stop asking that. On another hand, this is a great time to teach him what an appropriate response is. “Thanks for your concern, buddy! This is a great time to say, ‘Bless you!’” Or, if you get a kick out of hearing little kids stumble over big words, teach them this German classic: “Gesundheit!”
The ‘seasoned mothers’ who wrote Gourmet Parenting offer tried and true tips on how to foster social skills and manners:
1. Rehearse. Go over the requirements for an anticipated social situation in detail. It’s not enough to say, “You need to be a good boy.” Instead, it’s important to highlight specific actions that are appropriate. For example:
Parent: Aunt Mary got new furniture. She wants us to be careful with it. How can we be careful with it?
Child: Keep our feet on the floor?
Parent: Yes! What else?
Child: Only eat at the table?
Parent: Those are great ideas. She would appreciate your thoughtfulness.”
Or before a playdate at a friend’s house:
Parent: What are the rules that Sally’s mom has?
Child: Keep the doors open? Keep the lights on? Use inside voices?
Parent: Yes, good memory. These are the things we need to remember while we’re playing.
2. Practice. The time-honored game of “tea party” with parents serving as models and coaches is always effective.
3. Books. There are many good books about manners written especially for preschool age children. Most are light-hearted and humorous which can set the stage for parents and children to learn manners in a fun way. Try starting with these:
- “Magic Monsters Learn About Manners” by Jane Moncure
- “Goops and How to Be Them” by Gelett Burgess
- “Eating Out” by Helen Oxenbury
It’s vital to remember that good manners are closely linked to a child’s self-esteem and self-confidence. For preschool age children, a parent’s primary task is to develop feelings of concern, respect, and goodwill toward other human beings. The best way for that to happen is for the child to have a deep-seated sense of liking and respect for himself. As parents, we can foster these feelings through the smallest, daily actions that give the message that the child is a worthwhile individual.
“A gourmet parent will not be satisfied with the mere surface acquisition of socially acceptable responses but will focus, also, on the development of a child’s genuine feelings of consideration for others. In a way, good manners might be thought of as the frosting on a cake – of doubtful value if served alone, but delightful as the topping on a substantial and well-made cake.”
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Written by: Anne Grogan