How to teach young children manners.

Jass asks: How can we teach 4-5 year-olds about manners?

Learning Manners is something I know a lot about, Jass. Like most puppies, I was very excitable and misbehaved a lot. So I’ve experienced Handsome teaching me right and wrong ways. Here’s what I can tell you:

1) The most important thing by far is what you do. I see grownups all the time who eat every meal in front of a TV, they use bad words all the time, and they ignore what others want. Then they’re shocked when their kids do the same things! All the child-development experts will tell you the same thing: what you tell a kid will influence about a tenth of their behavior. What you do will influence about nine-tenths. So if you want to teach manners, have manners!

2) Give positive reinforcement. As the phrase goes, “Catch them being good.” If you spend meals telling kids what they’re doing wrong, all you’ll give them is indigestion. If instead, you compliment what they’re doing right, you make having manners something they’re eager to do. Remember, kids want and need to please grownups more than anything else – even if they seem to spend all their time breaking rules. So find ways to help them do better.

3) One of my favorite rules: Pick Your No’s! If you have a 4-5 year old you want to teach to say “please” and “thank you” and eat with a fork, that’s great. If you expect them to have the manners Kate Middleton had when she first dined with Queen Elizabeth, you’re nuts! Have about four or five things you want them to learn at a time. Once they have one absolutely down perfectly, then you can add another. But don’t expect the kids to nail too many things at once. Their brains are busy with lots of other things they consider way more important than manners! (Especially boys!)

4) Trick them into it! The best thing Handsome ever did in training me as a puppy was to have lots and lots of dog toys in the house. Any time I’d chew on furniture or a person, he would sternly tell me “No,” grab a toy, shove it into my mouth, and then shower me with kisses, petting, and compliments for having the toy there. So I learned to, when I felt like biting something or someone, grab a toy right away. Can you use that same logic with children? Again, it’s like my suggestion #2 – find a way to make the message positive.

5) And last but not least, remember: all that Manners really are is a way to treat people kindly. A child who is respectful and sweet and eats jelly with his hands will come off as much more Mannerly than a rude sullen kid who holds their little finger out when drinking tea. So note the children’s kindness and sweetness. Honor it and Reward it. That’s what matters most. Perfect curtsying can be learned later.

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