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Manners Count During the Holiday Season and All Year Round

The excitement of the holiday season can bring out the best in kids, but it often brings out their worst. Nagging, whining and a lack of “please” and “thank you” are not uncommon during this festive but frenetic time of year.

It can be easy to let these behaviors slide because you want your child to enjoy the holidays without reprimand or punishment. You also may not want to embarrass them at holiday gatherings by pointing out behavior flaws.

However, in truth, this is an excellent opportunity to teach your child about manners. If you emphasize appropriate behavior during the holidays, your child will begin to realize that it is important all the time. The key is to teach with patience rather than anger, and use strategies that help them achieve success rather than highlighting failure.

These four techniques will help your child develop manners of which you can be proud:

1. Quit while you’re ahead.
Tired, cranky kids are more likely to be rude and impolite. If you finish shopping or leave a party before reaching this point, you will be able to praise your child for great manners at the end of the activity. Praise reinforces good behavior and motivates your child to want to continue it in the future.

2. Pre-teach manners.
Before heading out to a gathering or holiday activity, remind your child how you expect them to behave. Emphasize that you want to hear “please” and “thank you”; that they should look at people when they talk to your child and respond to questions; and generally behave in a way that will make you proud. Subtle reminders may be necessary. For example, before leaving a party you could whisper to your child to remind them to thank the host.

3. Don’t plead or punish. When your child doesn’t behave politely, respond firmly but not in anger. You don’t want your child to remember this holiday as one when they were embarrassed or punished. Resist the urge to yell in public, threaten or mete out serious consequences. On the other hand, imploring them to behave, but issuing no consequences - or empty ones - will not change their behavior. If necessary, take your child aside and quietly remind them of your expectations. Explain that if they continue to be impolite, there will be a consequence. Explain the consequence and, if necessary, follow through with it. You may not be happy to take your child home from a party, hold a gift for a couple of days or send them to bed early, but the long-term impact will be worth it. Your child will develop manners, self-control and respectful behavior. This will be your favorite holiday gift!

4. Review and reward. After every holiday activity, compliment your child for positive behaviors. For example:

“I loved how you held the door open for people in the stores.”
“You played so patiently with your baby cousin.”
“Thank you for helping set the table tonight - it saved me time.”
“You said thank you to grandma for the gift without being reminded.”
"I noticed that even though you didn’t love the gift, you made your uncle feel like you did.”

Dr. Susan Bartell is America’s #1 Family Psychologist. Her latest book is The Top 50 Questions Kids Ask. For more information, visit


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