Teaching good manners should begin in the toddler years, as soon as children learn to speak and begin to learn how to socially interact in their world. Toddlers learn well through a combination of having their parents model good manners and the use of repetition and praise. Teaching manners in the toddler and preschool years and reinforcing their use will insure that your child takes these important social skills with them into adulthood.
Teaching Please and Thank You to a Toddler
Remember you are dealing with a toddler when teaching, so speak on his level, have plenty of patience and use plenty of praise. A toddler can begin to use words like please and thank you, first with prompting, then all by himself. But, remember, a toddler probably cannot understand that pulling her dress up is not good manners, nor will she always be able to chew with her mouth closed at the dinner table. So keep the manners developmentally appropriate and don’t have unreasonable expectations.
Teaching Manners to Toddlers Through Role Play
One way to teach a toddler manners is through pretend play and role play. You can join in a pretend lunch party with your toddler and her teddy bears and both of you can take turns saying please and thank you as you ask for and accept food. Then carry this over to mealtimes at your own table.
Play turn-taking games with your child, since learning to wait and turn-taking are important social skills needed in preschool.
Encourage your toddler to use words to greet familiar people when they see them, such as “Hi Grandma, how are you” and likewise to say “bye-bye” when people leave.
Make sure YOU and your older children also use their manners throughout the day because toddlers love to imitate their parents and older siblings.
Play dates are another nice way to work on manners through turn-taking, sharing (with adult guidance), verbal greetings, as well as saying “sorry” when someone gets hurt (which happens often during toddler play dates).
Tell kids what you want them to do, instead of always being negative and telling them what not to do. Toddlers often tune out the “no, stop, don’t” words because they hear them so often. Instead of “Don’t stand on the couch” tell them “We sit on the couch” or “Sit down on the couch.” Instead of “don’t snatch the cookie from your sister,” say “We ask and say please before we get a cookie.”
And remember, praise, praise, praise by saying things such as “I am so proud of you for giving Amanda a turn with your phone today,” or “Wow, nice manners, you said please without me reminding you!”