As parents, we all want our kids to behave. In a perfect world, kids would be good all the time and everywhere, but that’s a pretty tall order and doesn’t always happen. For most of us, if we have to pick between good behavior at home or good behavior in public, we’ll go for public every time.

When your children throw public temper tantrums or neglect to say please and thank you, they aren’t being their best selves. The good news is that you can help your kids shine in public by teaching them good manners much like you teach them to tie their shoes and make their beds.

Pre-Teaching Social Skills

According to Dr. Nekeshia Hammond, pre-teaching is the key! Just as we wouldn’t expect a child to immediately understand how to bake a cake after the first time we show them, we shouldn’t expect kids to understand manners if it is the very first time they are learning about them.

At a neutral time (everyone’s calm and no one’s in trouble) and before your child needs the skill, describe exactly what you want him to do. Young children learn best when lessons are brief, consistent and repeated often. Give step by step instructions. Think in basic, clear terms, such as, “When someone gives you something, you should look at the person, smile, and say thank you.”

Make instructions clear and concise. Add each step one at a time. Allow your child to practice the steps separately before practicing the skill as a whole. The best way to make the skill “stick” is to have your child practice often and in many different situations with lots of different people. You expect your child to practice soccer skills or math facts as they learn, so why would social skills be any different?

Focus on the Basics

When you first start teaching manners and social skills to your kids, you should focus on the basics. If your children can introduce themselves, say please and thank you, and follow instructions, they will already be ahead of the game. These skills are necessary for being a good friend, classmate, student or person in general. They form the foundation for all social interactions, and it’s crucial that kids learn these early in life.

According to Dr. Wendy Rice, it is important to have playdates and teach your child to socialize early on. This can be one of the most important times for kids to learn important social skills that they will use for the rest of their lives.

When telling your children how or why to do something, like saying please and thank you, remember to be brief; children have short attention spans. Be consistent; you may need to teach a skill multiple times. Repetition is crucial. Model the skills and behaviors you want your child to emulate. Your kids always are watching you! Make sure to provide lots of practice opportunities.

After your child masters please and thank you, introductions and following instructions, you can move on to other important skills that will help him or her grow socially. Teach disagreeing appropriately, listening and respecting differences using the same method. Don’t forget that practice really does make perfect.

Some great books to help you teach good manners are Dude That’s Rude and The Golden Rule. These books teach kids in ways that they can relate to, how to be polite.

Praise Them for Learning

Last, but certainly never least, praise your kids enthusiastically and sincerely when they use their social skills. You cheer when they make a basket or get a base hit after much practice and hard work—in the same way, praising your kids when they use good social skills builds your relationship with them and betters the odds they’ll excel socially wherever they are. Be consistent and praise often, and you will be amazed by the changes in their behavior.

Remember, it’s your job as a parent to teach your kids good manners and social skills. Humans aren’t inherently born with these skills. It is up to you to ultimately raise well-rounded and respected adults. As long as you remember to break the skills down into simple behaviors and have them practice as much possible, your children will catch on quickly and others will enjoy being around them as much as you do.

For more tips on how to teach your kids social skills, visit TBParenting.com or check out our January issue.

by Angela Ardolino of Tampa Bay Parenting, TBParenting.com