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Unlocking social skills: Why and how to teach good manners

If you’ve ever wondered how well-behaved a pre-schooler can be expected to be, you’re not alone. After all, it seems like typical childlike behaviour to not want to greet visitors on days when one doesn’t feel very sociable, gobble down a few pieces of food and get up from the table when something interesting catches your eye, or not thank a visitor for bringing an unexpected gift.

6 mins to read Feb 10, 2022

Should we insist on teaching our children to be respectful before they’re seven or eight years old and ready to intellectually grasp the concept of ‘respect’?

Surely, children who grow up in an environment where other people are being considerate to them will eventually choose to turn into pleasant human beings when they are good and ready to do so?

The answer is that the early years are the best time for teaching basic good manners. According to the well-known Canadian clinical psychologist, Dr Jordan Peterson, parents who decide to wait before teaching their children how to behave in socially accepted ways unintentionally set their little ones up for being socially ill-equipped by the age of four. And, since the way in which people react to children continually shapes their self-image, children who are not well socialized are led to view themselves as being irritating and unlikeable.

On the other hand, approving smiles, appreciative looks, and positive comments can have an almost miraculously positive impact on a child’s developing self-concept.

Ask any teacher and they will say that parents miss out on the opportunity to unlock certain important skills and character traits in their children when they don’t teach manners early:ma

  1. Children miss out on developing of a positive self-concept. By the time children enter Grade R, they should be used to thinking of themselves as being respectful and likeable.
  2. Without good winners, children don’t develop to their fullest potential. Social graces are a vital component of being able to influence others. And, just like a child can be born with an aptitude for music or sport, which may never be realised due to lack of opportunities, a child can also be born with the potential to be a socially adept leader and never reach this potential due to lack of guidance.
  3. Pre-schoolers need to master the basics of self-regulation. It’s critically important for children to develop the ability to delay gratification and control their impulses during the early years. In fact, researchers say their ability to control their own behaviour by remembering and following rules is a major contributor to early school success.2 following rules is a major contributor to early school success.2 Now that we’ve established the value of investing time and effort into teaching manners early, let’s look at a few tips.


  1. First and foremost, children learn by example. If you want to foster respect in your child, start by treating them and those in their world with respect and courtesy. Also, point out other people exhibiting the behaviours you would like to see in your child.3
  2. Introduce your child to dinnertime around the table. When we talk to our children during dinner, we demonstrate the social side of sharing a meal. Even if they’ve eaten already, they can be given a bowl of yogurt or fruit, so that they don’t feel left out. Also, expect of them to sit at the table for a reasonable amount of time (at least 10 minutes at the age of 3) and to ask to be excused at some point, instead of getting up and walking off when they feel like it.
  3. Teach your child how to greet politely. You can start by creating little ‘pretend’ visits where they practice saying ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ to stuffed toys. Also, prompt your child when you’re going to visit a friend, for example, “We’re going to visit aunty Wendy. When we get there, we’re going to say ‘hello'”.
  4. Three- and four-year-olds can learn to not interrupt. Children can be taught to put their hand on your arm whenever they want your attention while you’re in mid- sentence. Then simply put your free hand on the waiting hand to reassure them that you know they’re waiting their turn to talk to you.
  5. Saying ‘sorry’ and accepting a ‘sorry’ is also important. As parents, we should teach our children when and why they should apologize. And, just as we’d like them to say sorry, we also want them to learn to graciously accept an apology.
  6. By the age of four, most children can remember to use the words ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ appropriately. They can also remember to say ‘excuse me’ after burps and share without being prompted. But of course, don’t feel as though you’ve failed if they forget every now and again – Rome was not built in a day after all!
  7. Respond by immediately addressing the issue when your child uses a sassy tone of voice. You can say: “I don’t like it when I hear people talk that way” or “I like it better when you speak kindly to me – please use your normal tone of voice”.
  8. It is important to remember that rules you put in place need to apply both at home and while you’re out. However, don’t ever embarrass your child out in public. When they have done something that requires a talk, do so in a private place like a washroom. Also remember that if you threaten consequences, you need to be willing to follow through.

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  1. Peterson, J.B. (2018). 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos. Norman Doidge, and Sciver E
  2. Link:…- behave-properly
  3. Blair, C., and Raver, C. C. (2015). School readiness and self-regulation: a developmental psychobiological approach. Annual review of psychology, Vol. 66, p.711–731.
  4. Link:
  5. Stoner, J. and Weiner, L. (2009). Good Manners Are Contagious. Spinner Press,


Unlocking social skills: Why and how to teach good manners

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Unlocking social skills: Why and how to teach good manners