Your fifth grader comes in from school, runs up the stairs and slams his door shut. He’s mad because his best friend called him a name behind his back. At this age, your child’s social life is increasingly complex and sophisticated. Friendships are a huge part of his school day. This is when the good manners you’ve instilled in him in the younger grades really start to shine, according to manners and education expert Cindy Post Senning from The Emily Post Institute. In the book she co-authored, The Gift of Good Manners: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Respectful, Kind and Considerate Children, she explains how etiquette education should follow a child’s social development. Here are some highlights to keep your fifth grader rolling in the right direction:
Teach Values: Post calls it the "Golden Rule of Parenting": Be the person you want your child to be (and that means all the time, not just when you think she's watching.) Point out to her the everyday good manners you use, such as holding the door for the person behind you and saying “thank you” to the cashier. In her book, Post warns: “Be on guard against unintentionally pejorative or condescending comments. Remarks such as …‘I’d hate to spend my life in a wheelchair’ may seem benign but can create the impression in a child’s mind that poverty and disability are character flaws.” Teach your child the value of selfless acts; encourage him (without forcing) to donate some of his toys to a holiday gift drive.
Raise a Good Sport: Your fifth grader should recognize good and bad examples of sportsmanship. Remind children of the importance of thanking losers and congratulating winners, even when the team lost by one point in triple overtime. Post says if your daughter’s favorite player throws his racket after loosing a match, talk to her about this. Ask questions, like, “Was that right? What else could he have done to control his anger?” Post says this is a great opportunity to talk to your child about controlling their own anger in similar situations.
Encourage Communication: Next time your child has an argument with his friend, use it as an opportunity to practice resolution strategies and instill a sense of responsibility. Encourage your child to sit down with his friend and talk it out using “When I feel…” statements and basic negotiation techniques, such as “I’ll apologize for hitting you, if you apologize for taking my bag.”
Groom Good Table Manners: Now is the perfect time in your child's development to introduce cutting with a knife, Post says. Carrots, green beans, and boiled potatoes are great foods to start with. If following basic table manners like reaching over the table or slurping soup is still an issue, explain to children that, believe it or not, people do judge them by how they act at the table.
Get Out-and-About: By fifth grade, you can allow your child out on independent ventures in a controlled environment. Post says that when her children were young they would all go to family night at the local ice hockey rink to watch the game. “I would let them run down to the snack bar with a group of their friends,” she says. “It builds self-confidence and social skills to be on their own.”
Keep in mind that good manners are the cornerstone to building healthy relationships. That will prove extremely important as your fifth grader prepares for middle school, where she’ll all of a sudden have several different teachers on a daily basis who have different styles and expectations. Responding to these differences by adjusting behavior will require some expert maneuvering, and a pocketful of good manners. Use this year to set your child up for success.