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How to Teach Your Five-Year-Old Child Manners

Updated on February 22, 2011

You can't make me! You're not the boss! Such comments may be your five year old's expression of independence. They are considered by most people to be rude and fresh, however.

Politeness is the ability to show basic respect for the feelings of others. When children start to talk, there is a tendency to pick up on the language of others. Even on a very young level, it is not unusual to have a child come home from nursery school or day care and repeat some of the unpleasant comments heard from other children!

By the time children reach the age of five, they are old enough to say please, thank you, and excuse me. Greeting people, both in person and on the telephone, is a reasonable skill to expect from your child. Interruptions while you are talking to someone should be minimal at this point. Most five year olds should be able to wait in a restaurant or store without excessive fidgeting. Manners at the dinner table should be well developed by this time. This means using utensils and a napkin properly with minimal reminders. As your child begins to learn to print her name, signing (and, for some children, writing) thank-you cards can be expected.

How do you get your child to accomplish these tasks? Being a positive role model for your child is the first step. Most of us tend to speak politely to other adults, but we sometimes forget when we are talking to our own children. Remembering to add "please" when asking your child to do something can go a long way. Reinforce good manners when you hear them. Telling your child "I really like the way you said thank you to Mrs. Jones" increases the chances that the behavior will occur again.

By age five, most children can understand the conse­quences of making rude remarks to others. Depending on the situation and the degree of rudeness, reprimanding your child d asking for an apology is a reasonable way to handle the situation. In other situations, it may be better to agree on a code word that you can use to avoid embarrassment. This may be helpful when your child is showing off in front of her friends or testing the limits.

If your child does not respond to your verbal reprimands or code words, you may need to role play how to be polite. Use specific situation as an example, and ask your child to think if different things she could say. For example, if your child has difficulty politely asking for something, practice having her ask several different people—you, her grandparents, a friend's mother, and a teacher. It may be helpful for you to begin by laying the part of your child so you can provide a model for appropriate behavior. Then have your child play herself, and rehearse these responses in a nonthreatening situation.

Instead of giving your child a direct command about manners (Stop slouching in your chair), give her a reminder about the rule (Remember, we sit up straight at the table). If your child is in a situation she doesn't always handle well, give her a gentle prompt. When someone in the store hands her something, help her find the correct response by saying, "You know the right thing to say."

Sometimes we find ourselves using too many words to correct behaviors. If this is the case, use nonverbal reminders to improve manners, instead of responding verbally to such statements as, "More milk," hold the milk out of reach to re­mind your child she forgot to say "please."

When rudeness seems to be related to your child's "decla­ration of independence," restate those feelings and provide an example of how you would like your child to respond. Validate your child's feeling with a statement like, "I know you don't like me telling you what to do, but you may not be rude to me." Continue by providing an example of an appropriate way to express feelings.

When you feel there is no hope for having a polite child, remember that this is another example of behaviors that can be modified. Talking to your child with respect is the most beneficial way to help her act politely. If your tone of voice is harsh and demanding, your child will model the same behavior when she is speaking to you and others. Sometimes children use polite words, but their tone of voice can quickly eliminate any polite message.

Focusing on politeness and manners is not always easy when the demands of parenthood start to take their toll, but reminding yourself of the long-term consequences may make it easier!


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  • swedal profile image

    swedal 7 years ago from Colorado

    Glad you hopped by Hyphenbird and added your thoughts. Thank you!

  • Hyphenbird profile image

    Brenda Barnes 7 years ago from America-Broken But Still Beautiful

    Training from infancy is so important. I love to see a polite and fun little child and am as quickly turned off by bratty behaviour.

    Thanks for the article. I do not have a small child. This popped up as I was Hub Hopping. Have a great day!