How to Have a Dialogue with Your Three-to-Five-Year-Old
Your child is now old enough to have a real conversation: listening, thinking, evaluating, judging, and responding with ideas of her own. Now's the time for real conversations!
Communicating Your Values
As you did with safety issues, you can use your child's own conscience to shape her behavior now. You can ask, “Do you think your friends will like it if you bring a toy but don't want to share it?” “Do you think your brother might want us to pick up a sandwich for him, too?” and “What do you think might happen if you leave your bike lying in the street?” Similarly, instead of re-creating the rules of the world, you can take the pressure off yourself by reading aloud the signs posted in public places that are relevant to your child. You can say, “Let's read the rules on the shopping cart seat. See the picture with a line through it? That means no standing up in the cart. Why do you think there's a rule against that?” By using these questions as open-ended paths to conscience, you can communicate your values to your child without preaching.
Expecting Good Manners
Talking about good manners can seem old-fashioned and stuffy to some people. If it does to you, it might help to rephrase these beliefs in twenty-first century dogma: “being nice builds social capital,” “connections get the job done,” and “everybody likes a team player.” No matter how you slice it, good manners never go out of style.
In order for your child to use good manners (saying “please” and “thank you,” greeting others, sharing, and waiting her turn), you must model them in your interactions with others and in your interactions with her. In other words, if you want your child to say, “Can you please pass the butter?” to you, you must say so to her instead of reaching past her like she doesn't exist. In front of others, gentle reminders like “What do you say?” are helpful. Don't stand in for your child; insist that she say thank you when someone has done her a favor or given her a gift.