A Gentle Hand
"Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter which fork you use."
Senning advises parents not to set their expectations for proper behavior too low. "As with any skill, teach manners starting with the simplest elements, then build. A toddler may not be able to sit still through an entire family dinner, so keep a basket of quiet toys in the corner of the dining room. When your toddler is full, allow him to play on the floor while the family finishes the meal. This way, he learns the expectations of eating with the family."
When working on a specific manners skill with a child, inform your youngster's caregivers about the skill to reinforce that manners are important all of the time. Senning recommends that children, "Practice, practice, practice manners," and this is important even when parents aren't with their kids.
"Correction does much, but encouragement does more."
—Johann von Goethe
"Never embarrass or humiliate your children by correcting them in public," Senning says. Parents should display manners even when addressing a child's inappropriate behavior. Often a loving touch and a warning look can remind a child what's expected of him. If this does not work, remove the child to a private location and discuss his behavior. "Correcting a child in public is appropriate only when they display hurtful or destructive behavior," says Senning.
Positive reinforcement can encourage repeated use of good manners. When a child displays proper etiquette in public or private, commend him. Young children want to please their parents and thrive on recognition.
Other incentives may include rewards related to the behavior. "For instance, if your child struggles to keep his elbows off the table, offer a reward of his choice of dessert if he can keep his elbows off the table through an entire meal," suggests Senning. If he fails, offer encouragement and make the same offer at the next meal. Senning does not recommend paying children for good behavior. She also advises parents, "Be sure to follow through with your promises."