Throughout their early childhood years -- up to age 6 -- children may struggle to develop an understanding of what constitutes appropriate behavior. During this time it is critical for you to set well-defined boundaries that help your child learn right from wrong, and the most important early childhood rules are the ones that teach your child safety and how to get along with others.
Playing with Fire
According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, 52 percent of all childhood fire-related deaths involve children younger than age 5. Fire-related deaths of young children occurs for two reasons: Children have a natural curiosity about fire that leads them to experiment, and young children most often do not know how to escape a fire on their own. FEMA suggests that you teach your children how dangerous fire is by explaining it is “hot, fast and deadly” and that they should never play with fire under any circumstances. The emergency management agency also recommends practicing fire drills to teach your children to escape a fire by crawling along the floor to avoid smoke inhalation, and that you set a predetermined place to meet outside of the house.
The American Psychological Association reports that “children can show signs of empathy and concern from a very early age” and respond with genuine concern when they see others needing help. To instill the rule of helping others, ask your child to do simple tasks, such as assisting with bringing in the groceries, setting the table for dinner or filling the dog’s water dish. For more serious issues, such as someone being injured, children should be taught to summon an adult. Every child old enough to speak should be taught how to dial “911” in an emergency if an adult is not present.
It is important to teach your child proper manners -- from chewing with his mouth closed to saying “please” and “thank you.” Basic manners for young children shouldn’t be elaborate or excessively detailed. They should include the concept of treating others as they would like to be treated. Children can be taught that consideration and respect for other people are as important as satisfying their own wants and needs.
Beyond basic politeness, young children must learn that their words can have a hurtful effect on others. Children must be taught that it is never acceptable to yell or call others names when they are angry, and that being nice to others will win friends. When teaching your children to speak kindly, bear in mind that young children are highly impressionable and -- as the American Psychological Association points out -- your children take their cues from you and follow your example, whether your example is positive or negative.
While it certainly will never be at the top of their “Fun Things to Do” list, teaching young children the need to clean up after themselves will help instill in them a sense of responsibility. During early childhood, however, children require specific instructions, such as an explanation of why they must pick up their toys before doing something else, such as going to the park or watching TV. It is also essential to teach your children the importance of washing their hands after play and before eating to avoid spreading germs.
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