A mother recently asked this question:
My five-year-old daughter often refuses to acknowledge others when they speak to her. An example is her turning away when the neighbor says hello. I intervene by saying, “Can you say hi?”, but she still refuses. I was raised with an emphasis on good manners and this embarrasses me. I don’t know what to do. Can you help?
I sure can!
Take a deep breath and know there is a simple adjustment to what you are already doing that can guide your child to responding in a way that would make you proud.
A child not responding in the way we wish can be very frustrating to any parent. I personally appreciate that you are concerned and are looking for encouragement to enhance your daughter’s interpersonal skills. I also believe that manners and social etiquette are an important part of raising children.
Here are a few tips that may help.
1. Provide an example of the expectation in the moment.
Stating how you would like your daughter to respond will likely help her to do so. It may look to you and others as though she is being oppositional in not addressing the neighbor, but I gather she just may not know what the expectation is.
In the moment you are asking her if she can say hi. This literally is a question to which she can answer “yes” or “no”.
I gather what you are really wanting to say is “I would like you to say hello to Mrs. ______.” Another approach would be to say, “It is nice to respond with a hello when someone says hello to you. I would like you to say hello.” This also shows others who are around you at the time that you are teaching your child what is important to you.
With time you can talk to her about adding other pleasantries she may want to add to her hello such as “I hope you have a nice day.” Or “It is nice to see you.”
2. Talk to your daughter about this issue at a different time.
This provides privacy and space from the situation for both of you. This purposeful delay usually helps the parent be a better communicator as you have had time to think about what to say and are not emotionally charged in the moment. It also helps your daughter in understanding that this is an important matter that is being given extra, focused time.
This is a time to discuss the situation you are concerned about and explain clearly and concisely what the expectation is again. Doing so in a supportive, loving way can encourage the connection between you and your daughter.
3. Follow up after the situation occurs.
Regardless of how your daughter does in responding to the neighbor saying hello, it is important to sit with her after something similar occurs and discuss what she did well and what she can improve on.
Restating the expectation again is helpful. I suggest doing this 2-3 times to reinforce the expectation. Giving her verbal praise when she fulfills the expectation will help her succeed.
4. Role model what you wish to see.
Being mindful of your own interactions with others is essential. It sounds like you are doing an A+ job due to your own upbringing, but I always encourage parents to reflect on their own behaviors when wanting to see a change in their child’s behaviors.
It can be especially trying to be a good example when we are tired, hungry, in a hurry, etc. Your daughter’s eyes and ears are paying attention to EVERY thing you do. Keeping an eye on your own behaviors will help.
5. Be patient.
At this age your daughter is learning new things constantly and can get overwhelmed with all the new information she is absorbing. It is normal for children to fulfill the expectation and then resort back to their previous functioning. Understanding this is normal and providing gentle reminders can help both of you to reach the goal.
You are doing a great service to your daughter by teaching her how to interact with others. She will benefit greatly from your effort now and for years to come!