Children are not born with manners, they are taught and learned both by formally teaching and by children observing the actions of the important adults in their lives. What is the best way to teach manners to toddlers? Well the good news is its never to early, and never too late to start to both teach and demonstrate good manners to your children or students.
Toddlers and Preschoolers will already be starting to become aware of acceptable behaviors and manners. Parents and teachers can give this direction by demonstrating good manners, setting boundaries, using positive reinforcement and promoting polite responses until children learn to be well mannered independently.
This article will cover some of the most successful techniques for teaching young children how to behave in public. It includes activities, games, and strategies that parents can use for teaching manners to toddlers.
1. Make it a Habit to Say “Please” and “Thank You.”
While teaching manners to toddlers you should lead by example and make it a habit to say “please” and “thank you.” when the opportunity arises. If your preschooler or toddler hears these words often, they are more likely to use them themselves.
It won’t be an overnight transition so little cues, which will have been said to you in your (much) younger days, like ”say the magic word”, or ”what do you say” will help them remember that they have to use their manners. However for these two phrases the more that you, as a teacher or parent, use them the more your toddler will realise they are important to say.
It is a learning journey so don’t be to hard when your little one forgets, but do praise them when they remember. Positive reinforcement is going to be much more successful when teaching manners to your toddler than chastising when they forget.
When they do forget to say please and thank you, and in the early stages it will be more often than not, just give them a cue and a nudge and they will soon say them as habit.
2. Make it a Habit to Use Polite Phrases With Your Toddler
Although ”please and thank you” are the two most common words or phrases to teach your toddler manners, there are more you can introduce to help them practice and learn.
Excuse me: Another good approach to help to teach manners to toddlers is to use ”excuse me” whenever you want to speak to them. Kids learn by example, so if you ask your child for something and interrupt their play or conversation, you should say “excuse me” to let them know you’d like the turn to talk.
This practice will also help teach your child to listen and politely give others their attention when needed (something that can be hard for little kids.). On the other hand, if you frequently interrupt your child without politeness, they will learn to do the same thing. So make sure you always say “excuse me” when interrupting your child, and let them learn manners from your actions.
May I: This is covered below in the asking for permission section, however teaching ”may I” or ”can I” (may I is more polite) when they want something is definitely good manners for toddlers, and everyone else.
Im sorry: This is not just the hardest word for adults to say it also difficult for children to say. It is important to explain to your toddler that when they hurt people then need to understand or try to understand how they make other people feel.
It will take a while for children to say sorry without prompting so be prepared for that, it is hard to accept responsibility if their actions have hurt others and they are not developmentally advanced enough to be able to admit this for quite some time.
Parents can demonstrate this when the chance arises, but also prompting may be needed, and both parents and teachers need to be aware that there will be resistance to saying these words as it admits fault, something that takes a level of maturity that preschoolers don’t yet have. .
You’re welcome: Like I’m sorry this can be challenging to teach manners to toddlers. A good way of introducing it is to play games with manners. Keep a running total of how many times the family say it, and see if your toddler can beat their parents.
Keeping the score on the fridge, low down on the fridge though ;), and let them be responsible for adding the scores. (we have a little downloadable poster if you want to try this, just click the image below to get this) This will teach responsibility, and also give them an awareness of how often these words are used.
No thank you / thanks: After being offered something it is polite and good manners, if you don’t want the item, to say no thanks or no thank you. This is best taught by letting your toddler see and hear you using it. This can be done at the dinner table while passing food, on the street when people approach you or in shops when they offer things like carrier bags or items on offer.
You can let your children know beforehand that they can be the one responsible for saying it, and remind them when the chance presents itself.
Manners Score card
3. Asking for permission
Teach them that if they want food or drink from someone else’s plate/cup, to use a toy, or do go some where then they should ask for permission before taking or doing it.
You can start to teach empathy by asking the child how they’d feel if someone took their food or drink without asking, and then explain that it’s important to always ask before taking something from somebody else.
This concept also extends into all areas of life (like borrowing toys, clothes, etc.). You can also lead as a good example by constantly asking for permission before taking something from your child.
Again, you want to be careful not to force them to give you things, but if it’s something they don’t care about or isn’t a big deal to them (like borrowing a marker), then asking is perfectly fine.
As mentioned above using ”may I” or ”can I” are the best phrases for this and the more fun or positive reinforcement you can use the quicker your children will learn. The behaviour you are trying to avoid by teaching your toddler manners here is the grabbing behaviour that most children demonstrate at some point in their development.
4. Set Boundaries to Help Teach Your Toddler Manners
Another great way to teach manners to toddlers is by setting boundaires or guidelines for them to follow and learn. They will test these and but learning where limits are is a life skill that we all need to learn. the earlier we can the more polite your children will be.
You will need to be firm with these boundaries, or they won’t learn, so make sure that you don’t let them stay up too late (especially past their usual time) unless it’s a special occasion, or eat to many sweets, unless Halloween for example.
If they are constantly allowed to do whatever they want without any boundaries, how will they know what normal behavior looks like? Enforcing these boundaries and rules is one of the most important ways to teach both acceptable behaviour and good manners.
They will try to test these boundaries, and that is to be expected. toddlers are developing their own personalities and finding their place in the world. To learn where these red lines are in a safe environment with parents is the best way for preschoolers and toddlers to develop.
Your role is to teach them how to fit in and prepare them for the next stages of their life, likely to be kindergarten where the rules become stricter and more numerous. This is your way to give them the coping and social skills to manage these transitions.
5. Positive reinforcement
Positive reinforcement is a behavioral technique that works very well when you teach manners to toddlers. Basically, instead of only saying no when they misbehave (like dashing a remote controller at the wall), you should also reward their positive behavior by telling them how proud you are whenever possible.
Kids learn so much from reinforcement and encouragement – it’s not enough to tell your child what the right things to do are, but why precisely those actions are essential as well. So please pay attention to all of the great things your toddler does throughout the day and let them know about it often.
An additional note is to limit the use of food as a reward, as this can lead to more significant issues. Try offering a walk, playing a game, or another activity instead. Intrinsic rather than extrinsic motivators have more of an impact on children of all ages.
6. You Will Always be Teaching Manners to Your Toddler, both Good and Bad.
You are the main influence in your children’s life and often is is hard to comprehend how much they will learn from you.
They will be listening to you deal with other people, watching you drive, next to you when watching TV, listening to you on the phone, and watching as you deal with situations both positive and negative. There has not been a surveillance system invented that can better a toddler.
The more you deal with these situations with good manners the more they will learn that behavior, and the more you show bad manners…well you get the picture.
7. Show Consistency
When you teach manners to toddlers try to do so in an even and fair way. Try not to demonstrate exceptions to rules too often, both for yourself or your toddler. As highlighted above they are watching, and watching closely.
Make sure both the positive reinforcement and the sanctions or punishments are even and proportionate and don’t go overboard whenever they say ”thank you or hello”, and conversely don’t act like its the end of the world when they don’t show good manners. They are learning, and an important lesson is that its ok to make mistakes.
8. Use Social Interaction to Practice manners
You may be able to teach manners to your toddler to the extent they are using cutlery in the correct order, placing napkins on their lap or heading to bed two minutes before their bedtime but the proof on how well they are learning is when they have to deal with their peers.
Playing in groups, sharing toys or food, how they relate to other children will show how well they are understanding that manners are for everyone not just for Mum and Dad. Your children, at this age at least, look up to you and want to please you desperately. Other children however are seen as peers.
It is important to let them practice their manners with other children, this wont be easy, as empathy is a developmental skill that takes some time to learn. So don’t be to hard on them when they slip up. Just explain what behavior is expected and let them try again.
Books to help Teaching Manners to Toddlers
These 3 books are worth a look to either read as a story at story or bedtime, or as a classroom basis for a lesson if you are are kindergarten or grade school teacher and want to cover manners as a topic. They will certainly help to teach manners to toddlers
They also cover other elements of a toddlers life like routines, school or preschool and relationships.
What To Do If Your Toddler has Bad Manners
When you teach manners to toddlers it is important to remember that it will take some time. At some point every child is naughty or displays bad manners. How to deal with that, be it grabbing a pen from a classmate or friend to a full on meltdown in a supermarket can be a challenge for most parents and teachers.
We have a few tips below to help.
- A great way to teach manners to toddlers is to give them a warning before you discipline them. Nobody likes being yelled at, so this will make it easier for them to adjust their behavior next time around.
- Try to limit the use of the word “no” too much – if they are constantly hearing that word from you, then they’ll have no idea what else they can do. Instead of saying “no,” try giving more specific instructions on why exactly something should be done instead.
- Sometimes toddlers are unaware of the consequences of their actions, so they need to understand why they shouldn’t do something before you punish them. Always explain why their actions are not acceptable. I liked this fathers approach to his daughter having a meltdown in a supermarket.
- If your child continues to behave poorly after the above strategies have been used, a time-out or ‘naughty chair’ might be necessary. Make sure they know why they are being sanctioned and let them know this is their consequence.
- Toddlers need discipline and boundaries for them to know what is expected of them. Suppose they continue to step over those boundaries without being corrected. In that case, you will want to let them know that their behavior isn’t acceptable by putting them somewhere to think about what was done wrong (like having a time out).
- Make sure you reward them when their behaviour is good, this is especially important if they are often ill mannered or naughty, its demonstrates what is acceptable manners or behaviors and how they can earn praise by using them.
Starting to Teach manners to toddlers doesn’t have to be hard work when you take these steps. If done correctly, teaching manners can be both an easy and fun 9for the msot part) process for both parent and child alike.
The strategies listed above will work best if applied consistently over time for children to make good habits out of better behaviors before bad ones. Try to remember that it will take time and patience, on both side, and that mistakes will happen. Try to deal with the slip ups calmly and rationally, it will get better.