Teach polite greetings with practice, patience

Child Life

April 28, 1996|By Beverly Mills | Beverly Mills,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

How do we help our child learn to greet adults properly? My 4-year-old son doesn't greet people well. He acts shy and grabs my leg. Am I being unreasonable to expect him to expect him to say 'Hi'?

Linda Viani

Santa Rosa, Calif.

"I had the same problem with my 4-year-old," says Debbie O'Brien, a reader from Newfoundland, N.J. "I think the problem was that I tried to force him to greet people. That doesn't work very well. He is now 5, and he is much better at greeting people. It could be his maturity isn't there yet."

Maturity is indeed a factor, says Jerome Kagan, a psychology professor at Harvard University, who studies shy children.

"If your child is under 5, don't worry about it," Dr. Kagan says. "Children are intimidated by adults they don't know. It's natural and universal. Once they get school-age, they'll most likely overcome it."

Dr. Kagan also says parents should explain why the social graces are important.

"Let the child know that just like there are rules at the dinner table, there are rules when you meet people," he says. "When someone says 'Hello,' you say 'Hello' back. This is how you grow up and act properly."

One parent from Richmond, Va., found her children responded better when she prepared them for a situation in which they'd be expected to greet people.

"If we'd be going to church or a family reunion, I would take a couple of minutes to mention to them that this person and that person was going to be there," she says.

Jo Chalfant, of Wichita, Kan., suggests helping your child practice by turning it into a game.

"Become his conspirator by telling him there is a neat trick he can use: All you have to do is when you come into a room, stand up real straight and look at the person's face, smile a little bit and say 'Hi,' " Ms. Chalfant says. "Then that person will think you are wonderful."

Play-act a few times by letting the child pretend you are the guest, Ms. Chalfant suggests.

"Change the guest's identity with each run-through to make it more fun," she says.

Never make the child feel ashamed for his lack of social skills, advises Cathy Templesman of New York, author of the book "Child-Wise" (Quill, $12).

"Find a quiet time and talk about it," she suggests. "Say, 'I noticed you don't like to say 'Hello.' Is there anything I can do to help?' Praise any efforts they make and focus on small steps."

This is what has helped Carolyn Burns, a parent from Culver City, Calif.

"My child is 9, and she still doesn't greet people well," Ms. Burns says. "We try to talk to her about it away from the situation and let her know that it is OK to say 'Hello,' but that if she doesn't feel comfortable, it's OK as long as she isn't rude."

Finally, realize that you are a model for your children, says a reader from Miami, Fla.

"Set an example yourself by greeting people and being friendly," Lynn McKinnon says. "Pushing a child will not work. Everyone has a different personality, and they will become more sociable when they are ready."

Pub Date: 4/28/96

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