The holiday season (along with summer reunions) is a natural time for getting together with relatives … but children aren’t always comfortable meeting and greeting relatives. You can help. By using Montessori techniques for teaching grace and courtesy, you can help your child learn and more comfortably use appropriate greetings.
Here are some techniques you can use at home:
Teach your child how to address each relative.
- It’s important that your child knows how you want each adult relative to be addressed. Does your child’s aunt prefer to be called Aunt Sue or simply Sue? Whatever your family tradition is, be sure your child feels confident in knowing how to address each adult before you attend a family gathering.
- To help your child understand who each relative is (especially if you aren’t able to see them very often), it’s helpful to use photos. It’s also helpful to have a simple family tree to show relationships.
- You could make family nomenclature cards like Counting Coconuts.
- For my granddaughter, Zoey, I made 3-part family cards and a family tree activity to show relationships.
Demonstrate the appropriate greetings.
- Once your child knows who Aunt Sue is, you could say, “I want to show you how to greet Aunt Sue.” Demonstrate the actions along with the appropriate words.
- You could have your child pretend to be Aunt Sue. You’ll pretend to be your child. Say something like: “I look Aunt Sue in the eye, smile, and say, ‘Hi, Aunt Sue’ [or ‘Good morning, Aunt Sue,’ or ‘Merry Christmas, Aunt Sue,’ … whatever greeting is appropriate for the event and for your family]. You could add, “’It’s nice to see you again,’” or “’I’m so happy to see you again.’”
- Then show your child how to hug Aunt Sue or whatever form of greeting is appropriate for that relative and for your family. If you prefer, you could discuss consent with your child. In “The Mandatory-Hug Debate: How to Teach Kids About Consent Among Family, According to an Expert” it’s suggested that
one way for “preparing a child around 4 years of age is with something like, ‘We’re going to visit Grammy and Granddad — they will be excited to see you. Are you excited to see them? How do you want to let them know you’re excited to see them?'”
Allow plenty of opportunities for practice.
- Do lots of role playing. You could role play with your child while you play the part of various relatives or your husband or other children play various parts. You could even role play using imaginary relatives.
- Go over family photos more than once to be sure your child is comfortable knowing who each relative is before the family gathering.
- Have discussions about the family gathering with your child beforehand … talking about who will be at the gathering, how your child will greet each relative, and what your child will be expected to do at the gathering.
Be specific later when describing your child’s good manners at the family gathering.
- Be sure to discuss your child’s good manners after the event. Say things like, “I saw that you remembered to say, ‘Hi, Aunt Sue. I’m happy to see you.’ You even remembered to smile and look Aunt Sue in the eye!”
Don’t criticize or embarrass your child if he or she forgets an etiquette technique or isn’t comfortable enough to use it properly.
- Remember that young children need lots of practice. During my master’s dissertation study on teaching manners in a day nursery, I found that introductions and greetings were the most difficult etiquette techniques for young children to become comfortable with.
- Even extroverted children can feel shy or uncomfortable when introduced to someone or when greeting someone they haven’t seen recently. Your child will often need more practice than you’d think necessary. That’s alright. Just notice that your child needs more practice to become comfortable.
- Repeat the lesson again later.
- Give more opportunities for practice.
And it’s always important for you to be an example of good manners. Your child will continue to learn by watching you.
Have you had a manners lesson and/or positive experience with your child about greetings at family gatherings?
Other posts on using Montessori techniques to teach courtesy:
Learn more about Montessori at Home or School: How to Teach Grace and Courtesy plus a new book I coauthored: Learn with Play – 150+ Activities for Year-round Fun & Learning!
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