prepare your child for holiday guests

Teaching manners: 5 tips to prepare your child for holiday guests

Will you have family visiting for the upcoming holidays? If so, you might want to prepare your child for holiday guests and practice teaching your preschooler manners. Otherwise, you could have a heart-broken grandparent (or aunt or uncle) standing on your doorstep. After all, who wants to be greeted by a sobbing or screaming preschooler who refuses to even say hello?

Here are 5 tips to help prepare your child for holiday guests before they arrive. And, check out our fun role-playing activity for practicing manners, too!

5 tips to help prepare your child for holiday guests

  1. Get your child familiar with the guests.

It’s normal for young children to become shy or even upset when greeted by unfamiliar people. So, make sure you get your child familiar with the visitors’ faces and voices. Have the visitors call and talk to your child so she can hear their voices. Show her pictures of the guests. Set up video chats with them so your child can see their faces. Talk favorably about the upcoming visitors with your child. Share fun stories about them with her.

  1. Teach your child what to say.

Family members who rarely visit can ask a lot of questions. But preschoolers may not always answer them. That “stranger anxiety” may have kicked in, making them shy and withdrawn. This is completely normal. But it can’t hurt to prepare your child for the interrogation.

To prepare, practice greetings and polite conversations with your child. For example, role-play a guest arriving. You can do this with a puppet, stuffed animal, or action figure. Model the behavior you want to see in your child, such as saying, “Hello” and “I’m glad you’re here.” Then pretend to have a conversation with the guest and ask and answer typical questions. Some typical questions that visitors might ask your child are:

  • How old are you now?
  • Do you go to school?
  • Where do you go to school?
  • What do you like to do?
  • What do you want for Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa, etc.?


  1. Warm up the doorbell.

Let your child help you “warm up” the doorbell by pretending you’re the guest arriving. Role-play arriving at the door and ringing the bell or knocking. Let your child answer the door several times and greet you. First, guide your child to say common greetings, such as, “Hello,” “Welcome to my home,” “Please come in,” and “How are you?”

  1. Read books about guests and manners.

Read books about visitors to your preschooler to spark discussions on how to be a good host or hostess. Here are some of our recommendations:

This classic book celebrates the excitement and chaos of relatives visiting for a summer. If your child isn’t excited about guests coming to visit, he should be after reading this book!

This wordless classic features a snowman who comes alive and visits the young boy who made him.

A mouse discovers a strange surprise on his doorstep—a blue speckled egg. He visits his neighbors to see if his surprise visitor belongs to them.

This humorous book shows both good and bad manners through cartoon-like illustrations.

Young children will delight in the piggy characters as they learn about manners at the same time.

Louis has a hard time not interrupting others. Along with Louis, young children will learn to respect others by listening and waiting for their turn to speak.

  1. Keep realistic expectations.

Remember that your child is still learning important social and language skills such as listening to others and participating in conversations. So don’t expect him to be the perfect host. If he runs away and hides from your guests, don’t stress about it. If you give him some time, he will likely warm up to the new faces. Be patient and understanding. If you have an extremely shy preschooler, check out our 10 tips to help your extremely shy child.


Try this fun activity to teach manners and prepare your child for holiday guests.


Be My Guest

You will need:

  • pretend play food *
  • plastic or paper plates
  • pretend or plastic silverware
  • plastic cups

* If you don’t have pretend play food, you can cut out pictures of food from magazines or print them from the Internet. Just paste the pictures onto paper plates.

Follow these steps:

  1. Set the table with your child’s play food on separate plates in the middle, along with table settings of plates, silverware, and cups. You can use real tableware if you prefer.
  2. Tell him that he will be your special guest for dinner. Explain that you will be a nice host and use your manners. You will say special words such as “please” and “thank you.”
  3. Have your child leave the room, count to ten, and then pretend to knock or ring a doorbell at the entrance to the room.
  4. Model opening a door, smiling, and saying, “Hello! It’s so nice to see you! Thank you for coming.” Invite him to sit down at the table, and then pretend to eat dinner.
  5. During the pretend dinner, model saying “please” and “thank you.” For example: “Can you please pass the broccoli?” (after he passes the broccoli) “Thank you!”
  6. Invite your child to ask you for food as well, using the special words. If he needs prompting, say, “Would you like some (type of food)?” Encourage him to say, “Yes, please” and “thank you.” Then respond with, “You’re welcome.”
  7. After the pretend dinner, model thanking the guest for coming. For example: “Thank you for coming to dinner! I hope you liked it.”


Then, tell your child that it’s your turn to be the guest. Remind him to practice his manners. Ask:

  • What do you say when you greet someone at the door? (Hello! How are you? It’s nice to see you.)
  • What do you say when you need something? (please)
  • What do you say when someone gives you something? (thank you)
  • What do you say when someone says thank you? (you’re welcome)

Repeat the steps with your child as the host and you as the guest. If she forgets her manners, gently remind her. Invite your child to host stuffed animal friends, dolls, or action figures as guests. Repeat the steps as many times as he or she likes.

You can do similar role-playing activities to practice other words for manners, such as “I’m sorry” and “Excuse me.”

Remember: The best way to teach manners is to model them. So be sure to use manners in your everyday life, even when you’re in a hurry! Say “thank you” and “please” to store clerks when shopping with your child. Open doors for people. Smile and greet neighbors or friends in a genuine way. Show interest in their lives and empathy when they share details or feelings with you. Let your child see that you care about others, and this is why you are nice to them. Simply be polite, and your child will learn by your good example.


We hope this article gave you a few ideas for how to prepare your child for holiday guests and practice teaching your preschooler manners. Any tips or tricks? Please leave them in the comments!

Susan Light
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Susan Light is a mom, a grandmother, a journalist, and an educational expert. She is a senior editor at Rainbow Educational Concepts, and she blogs regularly for Dilly’s Tree House. Susan focuses on research-based topics for parents of preschoolers and ways to help young children get ready for kindergarten.

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