Teaching a toddler good manners might seem like an impossible task. Toddlers can change moods quickly, moving from happy and playful to sad and distraught in a matter of seconds. This often happens because young children have a hard time communicating their needs to those around them, and when they want something, they want it immediately! Encouraging toddlers to use manners will help them learn to control their emotions and give them confidence to navigate their world. The following tips will help you coach your little one as he or she learns good manners.
Keep it simple
Start with the basics – “please” and “thank you.” Before toddlers can talk, they can learn simple sign language. Consider using signs along spoken words. Model these phrases (with or without their corresponding signs) often throughout the day, both with the toddler and with other people with whom you interact. Ask “will you please bring me a book?” Then say “thank you” when your child brings the book to you. If your toddler demands something from you, like a drink or snack, you can gently say “I’d like you to say ‘please.’” When they say or sign it, praise them for their good manners. You can follow up by saying “I love to hear your nice manners. Thank you.”
Don’t expect perfect manners
Toddlers are too young to do everything right all of the time. Sometimes they are also shy or scared when communicating with others. My daughter was very afraid of saying "thank you" to strangers, so I often said it for her. Forcing good manners and responses all the time is unnecessary. As you set an example for your children, they will certainly follow.
Make learning table manners fun
Toddlers are naturally messy eaters as they are just developing their fine motor skills. Encourage good manners at the table by having your child help you set the table, pointing out the use of the various utensils and the napkin. Praise them for using the correct utensil during the meal, and for saying "please" and "thank you" as they ask for food. You can also practice by setting up a restaurant with play dishes and food, and role play eating and drinking politely. Small children love make-believe play, and their practice will certainly transfer to the dinner table.
Encourage good manners during play
A big struggle for most toddlers is sharing toys. In our family, we came up with the “next turn” phrase to help our small children learn to share. If your toddler wants a turn with a toy, but the child using it is not finished, encourage her to say “I’d like the next turn, please.” If that sentence is too long, she can try “next turn, please,” or even pointing to the toy and saying or signing "please." Using the same phrase repeatedly signals to the child that patience is needed, but he will certainly get a turn with the toy. When the child receives the toy, he can thank his friend.
Using good manners from an early age will help your child throughout his or her life. Toddlerhood can be a trying stage, but you’ll be reminded how rewarding parenting is when you hear your little one say “thank you!”
Amy M. Peterson, a former high school English teacher, currently lives in Oregon with her husband and four children. She spends her days writing, reading, exercising and trying to get her family to eat more vegetables.