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From Berry Brazelton: “Manners still matter. They represent our values and social styles. They signal our respect for other people. We use them throughout life to help us enter and fit into a group. Children today may be cheated of the opportunities to think generously about others. We are in a hurry, and most families are stressed. Manners may be left out or forgotten.

This is unfortunate. I always urge parents to start in early childhood to teach manners and to demonstrate respect for each other. Every time parents offer a cookie, they prompt a “please.” By the age of 3 or 4, with a child’s increased awareness of how her behavior affects others, a new opportunity arises. When she says, “Thank you” or “Please,” she receives a reward from those around her because adults react with admiration.

Usually, parents have worked hard to set up these patterns. For example, a parent will say, “Now say thank you.” The child’s eyes may cloud over. His arms may drop to his sides, and he may look away. But parents shouldn’t give up. Eventually your efforts will be rewarded. Watch your 4-year-old when someone special arrives. Without instruction, she may put out her hand to the new person. The visitor may say, “Aren’t you a big girl? You know how to say ‘How do you do?’” Your teaching has paid off. You have introduced behavior that she appeared to resist, but she has taken it in and has absorbed its purpose. She is now even able to anticipate that this behavior will bring a reward.

Parents can balance the instructions with opportunities for independence. For example, if a child has a favorite uncle, don’t practice a greeting ahead of time. Instead, see whether she tries out these manners on her own. You’ve made manners seem like fun; you’ve planted the seed. If she can live up to it, it will be a real achievement. If it works, don’t overwhelm her with praise. Let her experience the reward herself. Your goal is to let her affect the world around her, to realize that what she does impacts others. At 4 or 5, a child is intellectually and developmentally ready for this.

Manners matter in friendships, too. Young children often struggle with sharing and taking turns with peers. A child who is left alone because he fails to share may need help making the connection between his behavior and other children’s responses. A child who tries hard to master his urge to keep his toy to himself, or to take all the turns, takes pride in his own generosity when he wins out against these urges and shares with a friend who stays with him.” As parents, it’s our job to teach our children the best way to function in this world.