Teaching Manners to a Five-Year-Old


During a recent visit to a private school we are considering sending our daughter to, I found it difficult to have a conversation with the school staff due to my daughter's constant whining and "noise-making." I have found this to be an issue with many one-on-one conversations I try to have. She is five years old and an only child. I am a homemaker, so we spend a lot of time together daily. When my attention is directed at someone else, she is constantly attempting to get my full attention and will whine, talk, interrupt, and even move in disruptive ways. How can I teach her to be calm (verbally and physically) until I am finished with my conversations?


Hello, and thank you for your question. What you're trying to teach her are manners, and I and anyone who comes in contact with your daughter thank you! Manners are something that all children should learn, and parents would do well to make it a priority to teach them. Know as you start that it will take some patience and practice as learning any new skill/behavior does. Know, also, that it's totally worth the time and effort!

I'm going to borrow liberally from my colleague Sharon Lamberth, as she wrote a great script for ending the interrupting:

• Sit your daughter down for a serious meeting. There should be no distractions during the meeting (no TV, cell phones ringing, etc.).

• In a serious, authoritative tone (Alpha Speech), tell her that you have noticed her interrupting adults on numerous occasions and that this is NOT acceptable in your family AND it is rude. You can relate the experience at the school and let her know that it is your job as her parents to teach her proper manners in life and you intend to do your job.

• Define interrupting in simple terms. Then cite a few concrete examples of when she has needlessly interrupted. You can role play with her if it seems she doesn't understand.

• Give her guidelines for when it is acceptable to interrupt by saying something like: “You are allowed to interrupt if you are hurt, bleeding or can't breathe; someone else is hurt, bleeding or can't breathe; or if you see/note something dangerous, or potentially dangerous, is occurring."

• Have her repeat back to you what she heard you say to make sure she understands the expectations. Explain that when you or her dad put up your index finger, it's her signal to wait.

• Shake her hand, hug and kiss her and tell her that you know she can learn to not interrupt. End the family meeting.

Give her opportunities to practice her new manners and reteach or praise her as deserved. These steps should work with just about any particular manner you're trying to teach. One a week is a great goal!

Wishing you enjoyable adult conversations ahead!

Wendy Faucett
Certified Leadership Parenting Coach

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