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How to Make Children “Be Nice”

Each moment spent interacting in an early childhood program is an opportunity for learning.  We call these “Teachable Moments.”  Children learn from what they see and how they experience the world.  When children experience secure relationships, they demonstrate secure relationships with others.   The same is true if children experience insecure relationships with teachers, then they may have difficulty interacting with peers.  When we show warmth and respect to children, they show us warmth and respect.  We model the behavior we want to see.

How can we expect children to “be nice” when the tone and actions are not matching the definition? Do the children even know what the word “nice” means?   We often hear teachers in classrooms asking the children to “be nice” as they take a toy away and give it back to another child.  This reaction actually demonstrates that the word “nice” means to take something away.

So, what can we do to teach children to be kind, respectful, and friendly?  Here are some strategies to help model the “nice” behaviors.

  • Model the behavior you want to see in all children. Show kindness and respect as you speak. Respect is reciprocal. You need to give it to get it.
  • Be present in your interactions. Connect with the children and stay in the moment with them.
  • Make sure kind communication and actions are more effective than unkind words and actions. When a child asks for something in a disrespectful or demanding way, use that as a Teachable moment.  Be clear in your expectation.  Ask for the question to be restated in a different way.  “Can you ask for that in a different way?” or “It hurts my feelings when you speak to me that way, how else can you ask for what you want?”
  • Refer children to one another for help. When you see a child in need of help, point it out to children, and ask how they can help.
  • Notice, not judge. Catch children in action and talk about it by saying “You did it! You stopped yourself from spilling by putting the cup down and using two hands like this.  It is not about saying “I like the way…” That is a statement of judgement.  Start statements with “I noticed” and “I saw.” Children want to be seen, not judged.
  • Read more on communicating with children positively, especially if you’re wondering “Well, what do I say now?”

Guest Writer: Beth Garza, Early Childhood Consultant at Wayne RESA GSRP