How to Teach Your Toddler Manners
For those toddlers who tend to speak before they think (which can make for some difficult moments)!
My friend Justine was trying to get her toddler, Megan, into the bath one evening and suggested that since Granny was about to bathe, Megan could just take a bath with her. Megan replied, in front of poor Granny, “No Mom. Granny’s too fat. I won’t fit into the bath with her!” Embarrassing? Certainly. Unusual? Certainly not. Toddlers are not known for tact, and teaching them the ins and outs of manners can be challenging at the best of times.
Good manners are more than simply knowing what to say and when, says Colin Greer, author of A Call to Character. “They’re built on empathy, on respecting other people’s rights and personal space, and on treating them as equals who deserve the same common courtesy that we do. In fact, manners are a reflection of the way that we interact with people,” Greer continues. “And although we may take manners for granted, the reality is that children aren’t born with them, they’re bred with them.”
Can Toddlers Learn Manners?
Toddlers understand a lot more than we give them credit for. They can understand practically anything if it is expressed at a level that they can relate to. The clue lies in spending the time necessary to help them grasp the concept of manners until they feel confident with it. And it’s never too early to start. Formal teaching of manners is usually started at about one year, when your toddler can talk and communicate. Setting the groundwork can begin much earlier; for example, using a stern tone and facial expression when a child displays ill manners such as snatching or throwing food at the table. Bear in mind that it’s a lot easier for a grown child to be polite if it is ingrained and automatic, which only happens over time.
Do I Have to Teach Manners?
Absolutely. Teaching your toddler manners is one way to help your toddler interact with the world around him. Good manners help give children a strong sense of self, and the knowledge that they’re “doing it right” increases their confidence. As a parent, there’s nothing so heart-warming as to hear someone comment on your toddler being well-mannered. Asking your toddler to decide if everyday examples display good or bad manners will also help her to develop a sense of perception. She will have to use her own conclusions of how people feel and why, when placed in certain situations. For example, ask her, “How do you think that old lady felt when you held the door open for her?” or “Do you think Dan will want to talk to Paul again, if Paul always laughs at him?”
Set a Good Example
Do as I say and not as I do. Never try this on a toddler! Experts agree that the best and most important way of teaching toddlers manners is through good parental example. Toddlers are very observant of the adults around them. Julie Clark, author of Parenting Shorts says, “Practice with the child the things you want him to know. Remember learning to tie a tie, or perfecting your backhand? What did it take to master these things? Practice. So, too with teaching our kids what they need to know—and they will do them because it has become second nature.”
At an age where copying others is how children learn, be sure that you’re practicing good manners before you try teaching them to your toddler. Telling him to be polite to those around him and then being rude to the cashier at the supermarket or someone on the road will confuse him, and actions speak far louder than words in a toddler’s world.
Form an Action Plan
First, it’s a good idea for you and your partner to discuss what manners you’d like to instill in your toddler. Both of you were brought up differently, so what may seem essential to one partner might be frivolous to the other. Come to terms with which manners you both prioritize, and compromise on those you don’t.
Once you’ve reached agreement, take a few moments to tell your toddler exactly why manners are important to you. Sharing your feelings with your toddler and helping him understand the concept of manners is far better than dictating a bunch of rules for him to memorize. Then go on to discuss your expectations with your toddler. Knowing the rules, your toddler might test you to see what you’ll do, but if you’re consistent with your demands and consequences, he’ll quickly learn what you will and won’t tolerate from him. Be careful not to overwhelm him with so many dos and don’ts that he’ll hate the very sound of the word “manners.”
Stick to Basics
- Day-to-day manners: Make sure your toddler is aware that everybody is different in their own way and that it’s not good manners to make fun of somebody just because he or she is not like you. An important part of politeness is tolerance. If your toddler is staring at someone, ask him why and explain that staring can make people uncomfortable. Answer any questions that he may have about the person, but make sure the person is out of hearing range when you do have this discussion.
- The magic words: Saying “please” and “thank you” is part of being considerate. Toddlers often forget to use these words, but this is primarily because of their psychosocial development. “Remember that your child is in a teaching situation,” says Dr. Maurice Elias, co-author of Emotionally Intelligent Parenting: How to Raise a Self-Disciplined, Responsible, Socially Skilled Child. “Don’t get highly angry at your child, when your child acted in a way that he/she may have known better. Let your child develop and master this new skill … “
- Table manners: In today’s fast-paced world, there’s often little time to eat family dinners together, which is traditionally where table manners are taught. Don’t forget to teach your toddler the basics wherever she may be eating, such as using a napkin or not speaking with her mouth full of food. She may not like it now, but she’ll certainly appreciate the lesson later on when she’s trying to impress someone!
- Answering the telephone: Ever phoned a friend and received just a lingering silence? It usually means there’s a toddler on the other end. Most toddlers will rush to answer the phone when it rings, and then lose their tongues. Teach a child to say, “Hello” and perhaps introduce himself, and allow callers to respond before he launches forth with a barrage of questions. Remind him that if the caller asks to speak to you, he must remember to come and tell you so as not to keep them waiting on the line. Grandparents make perfect candidates for your toddler to practice on. Ask them to make a few calls to your home for your child to answer as part of his training.
“Always be firm,” says Ashika, mom of toddler Nashen. “When your tot does something you told him specifically not to do, carry out the punishment that was promised if he did that particular deed. Don’t go soft, or he’ll do it again, and even push you further to see how far he can go.”
Justine advises patience—lots of it! “Realize that it will take time for toddlers to get it right. You just have to be persistent with them and if, for example, they don’t say please when asking for something, then try not to give it to them until they do.”
- If you watch TV, make it a family affair: Take the time to analyze what your toddler watches and have him consider how situations could have been different using manners. For example, whose feelings were hurt? Why? How can we help the situation? How can we prevent it? Is this acceptable?
- Don’t shout or scold: If your toddler is rude to an adult, you may be prompted to shout or punish him, but bear in mind that the person he insulted is an adult while he’s only a child and still learning. Embarrassing him in front of the person he’s insulted may make that person feel better, but it’s not worth the cost to your toddler’s feelings or fragile ego. Instead, try calmly explaining to him why his actions or words were rude and ask him to apologize. “I tell Megan that whoever she’s been rude to feels sad now,” says Justine. Helping your toddler to develop empathy like this will also help her be more considerate of those around her.
- Teach using your child’s favorite books: Ashika uses examples from the stories that she tells her son, such as how polite Cinderella is even when her stepsisters are horrible to her.
With a bit of persistence, plenty of patience, and pleases and pardons galore, your toddler should be well on his way to developing excellent manners. With all the practice it takes, so will you!
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