Teaching manners to a young child may seem a little overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. You can encourage your child to be polite by teaching them a few key phrases and greetings, encouraging them to understand the importance of empathy and compassion, and modeling good behavior so that they have a good example to look up to! This article explores these methods and more so that you can help your child learn the importance of good manners and etiquette.
[Edit]Teach your child to say “hello” and “goodbye.”
- These phrases are the first steps to politely interacting with others. Practice by making a point to say “hello” or “good morning” when you wake up each day. As your child starts to get the hang of it, try to remind them to say hello to relatives and friends. If they forget to say hi, gently remind them. Try something like, “That’s our neighbor Tom! Do you want to say hello?”
- They can even learn how to say “hi” when they haven’t learned to speak yet! Try teaching your child how to wave hello and goodbye.
[Edit]Remind them to say “please” when asking for something.
- It wouldn’t be an article on manners without the phrase “please.” It’s the perfect way to ask for a question or favor in a gentle, polite way. Anytime your child asks for something, whether it be a cookie or some help with their homework, tell them to say “please” somewhere in that request. Encourage them not to forget by reminding them to say it before completing the task.
- For example, if your child asks for help retrieving a board game from the top shelf of the closet without saying please, say something like, “I can, but only if you say please!”
[Edit]Make sure they know the importance of “thank you.”
- Expressing gratitude is an important part of good manners. Teach your child when it’s appropriate to say “thank you,” like after someone has helped them, answered a question, or given them a gift. Gently remind your child to say thank you if you notice that they forgot. For example, if their friend gave them a picture they drew and your child takes it without a thank you, try something like, “Sarah drew that just for you! What do we say when someone gives us a gift?”
- Try practicing “thank you” by wrapping up objects around the house as if they were gifts. Exchange these 'gifts' with your child and take turns unwrapping them and saying "thank you."
[Edit]Encourage them to sit still and avoid mess when eating.
- It’s very common for kids to play with their food. Who wouldn’t want to throw mashed potatoes if given the chance? Though tempting, there are many strategies you can employ to teach your child to be polite at the dinner table. First, try not to react when your child makes a big mess. If they’re throwing food, for example, they may just want your attention. Avoid laughing or getting angry, and simply ask them to stop. If they continue to make a mess, let them know that mealtime is over. Enacting gentle but firm boundaries can help your child understand the consequences of their actions. 
- Help your child practice by offering only a few bites at a time. A dollop of mashed potatoes isn't as fun to play with as a mashed potato mountain. Sit with them at the table and give them more portions as they eat.
[Edit]Help them learn how to make eye contact in conversation.
- Looking someone in the eye is an important part of having a meaningful conversation! It can be hard for anyone, child or adult, so understand if this step takes a little extra time. To practice, ask your child to look members of your family in the eye to determine their eye color. This can make it feel more like a game and can help them get more comfortable in conversation!
- If you notice your child staring at the ground while talking to someone, gently suggest they look up when someone speaks to them. Avoid embarrassing them, though, as they may just be feeling extra shy! Try something like, “Grandma’s here, don’t you want to look up and see what she has to say?”
[Edit]Instruct them not to interrupt people in conversation.
- Help your child understand that when you speak to people, you take turns. Anytime you have a conversation and your child interrupts you, ask them to wait until you are done speaking. Remain consistent anytime they interrupt you, and praise them for waiting their turn when they do!
[Edit]Educate them about being kind.
- Teach your child the importance of empathy, compassion, and care for their community. To help them understand empathy, encourage them to look at conflicts from another person’s perspective. For example, if they are arguing with a sibling, ask both children to explain their point of view. Motivate them to really listen to the others’ perspective by having them repeat back how their sibling feels. Come up with a compromise so that your child learns how to react positively even when they don’t get exactly their way. You can also foster compassion through talking to your children about issues in the world that may cause people to experience hardship, like racism, poverty, and homophobia.
- If your child is old enough, take them to volunteer in your community to learn about the importance of giving back and doing the right thing!
- Watch educational television shows and movies that encourage children to learn about ethics. The animated films of Hayao Miyazaki, for example, often explore themes of caring for others as well as the environment.
[Edit]Set clear expectations.
- Instead of simply telling your child not to do something, say what they should do as well. A "no" without any alternative suggestion may leave your child feeling confused about what to do next. Give your child directions so that they know what good behavior they should practice instead.
- For example, if your child often eats messily at the dinner table, don’t just tell them to stop it. Follow that with something like, “Let’s keep all of our food on our plate” or “How about we eat our food instead of throwing it?”
[Edit]Be aware of your child’s limits.
- It may take time for your child to understand manners. As a young kid maybe they know how to say “hello” and “goodbye,” but they don’t yet know how to say “please.” Celebrate the small victories and take things one day at a time. It’s also best to take the context into account when teaching your child new manners. If your child is exhausted from a long day of preschool, that may not be the best time to introduce a new expectation.
- Always follow through with the expectations you set for your child. If you teach your child not to interrupt people, for example, and then say nothing when they interrupt you, that gives your child mixed messages. As soon as you introduce a new lesson in etiquette, hold your child accountable by reminding them to practice their manners consistently.
[Edit]Model good manners for your child.
- Children learn best through example. Always be kind, polite, and courteous in front of your child so that they have a positive role model to look up to. Yes, we all have our bad days, but try your absolute best to minimize or hide any anger or impatience in front of your child.
- Consider eating dinner as a family each night and modeling positive, courteous behavior! This is a great place to practice polite conversation as well as dinner table manners in particular.