One Expert Tells All

When Is My Child Ready to Learn Everyday Social Skills…and Be Expected to Use Them, Too?

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Here’s how to help toddlers and preschoolers demonstrate awesome p’s and q’s right now!

Want your little one to have a pleasant demeanor and a positive attitude and play well with others? Susan Smith Kuczmarski, Ed.D., author of Becoming a Happy Family: Pathways to the Family Soul, shares how to teach kids a few basic rules for social engagement and manners that count.

When can I teach my child to be kind and thoughtful, and say please and thank you?

Kids can display kindness as early as age two. If you say please and thank you, your child will say it, too. Demonstrate kindness—and insist that siblings treat each other the same way. Look for ways to show thoughtful behavior to a friend, neighbor, or the sick and elderly, and take your child along to see you carry it out. Tell your child that even if he doesn’t feel like being kind or thoughtful, there is value in behaving that way because a kind act itself can change the feeling that follows.

What’s the best way to teach age-appropriate social skills to a toddler or preschool child?

Model the behavior you want to teach. Your child will see it, learn that it is desirable, want to replicate it, and give it a try. Praise him when he does. Say, “You were so kind when you noticed that sad and lonely elderly woman on the corner and reached out to her with a smile.”

Are there any must-have social skills that every child should develop?

Children should be able to extend warm greetings to guests and teachers, know how to shake a hand, look someone in the eye, and be able to offer help. Manners like these should be modeled, discussed, and encouraged. Praise can be a very effective tool to help develop these skills.

Are there times when it’s OK for kids not to be well-mannered?

Yes. Any time a child feels threatened or believes that someone is inappropriate or has done something wrong, he should honor his feelings and go with his intuition. He should not be courteous; he should flee, and alert you or another adult.

What if a child is just too tired for niceties or her emotions get in the way?

Parents need to pick the right time to develop and teach children social skills. Tiredness explains most “off” behavior, and picking a time that is “clear” (i.e., when your child is rested and sturdy) is critical to successful teaching and learning. Choose an appropriate time to review poor behavior and discuss how the child should have reacted.

Should I reprimand or punish my child if she is rude?

Research has shown that kids who have been reprimanded or shamed go on to reprimand and shame others, including their own children. Parents who reprimand and shame their kids may also coerce, pressure, use power, and give commands. All these techniques are less effective disciplining tools. There must be a balance between structure and flexibility. Reprimanding is a disciplinary approach that overlooks the need for growth and exploration during the early childhood years.

So how should I correct rude behavior?

Guide, encourage, stimulate, and influence, rather than reprimand and dominate. Second, watch for opportunities to build a child’s confidence with lots of specific and enthusiastic praise. And third, encourage young kids ages two to six to talk often and about everything. Children who communicate their feelings and thoughts are less likely to act out in negative ways and may require less disciplining down the road.