Have you ever wondered why it’s so stinkin’ hard to teach a toddler how to have proper manners? Heck, forget about proper. How about anything even remotely resembling manners?
Don’t get me wrong, toddlers can be some of the most endearing people on the planet. Especially when they come up to you with those big eyes, and put their chubby little hands on either side of your face. And then proceed to tell you something that melts you into a puddle.
But then other times you have to stop and wonder if the little person you’re trying to raise is even human at all. Maybe their actually a wild hyena or rabid animal? You know what I mean?
I think a lot of it comes down to a lack of intentional work on our part. And I’m not blaming anyone for it, believe me. I honestly get it. Parenting is hard, and more days than not it can feel like you’re just trying to make it to bedtime.
But that’s not the only piece of the puzzle. I think we often aren’t intentional because we just aren’t sure what we’re supposed to be teaching. It’s an awful lot of work to raise someone and teach them from scratch. And that’s exactly what we’re doing, isn’t it?
So what manners should your toddler be learning, and how do you even go about it in an effective way?
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Toddlers are young—do manners really matter right now?
I think we can all agree that manners are important. But you may be wondering if it really matters right now. After all, toddlers are still so young.
And everyone expects them to act up and behave differently than we expect from adults. So then can’t we just write ourselves a rain check on trying to teach them manners?
Believe me, it’s easy to put these things off. It’s easy to say we’ll handle it later—after all, it’ll be easier when their older. Right?
Young or old, manners matter. And really, the longer you wait, the less patience people have when your toddler fails to act politely. Or worse, does something that’s really not appropriate at all.
The earlier you start teaching your toddler good manners, the sooner they’ll learn them. Not only will it make a great impression to others, but it will set your toddler up for success.
What Manners Should You Be Teaching Your Toddler?
Often our toddlers don’t learn good manners because we just don’t know what all to teach. It’s easier to assume that they’ll pick it up from interacting with other people. But this isn’t always the case.
The best way to make sure your toddler has good manners is to actively and intentionally teach them. But what specific manners should your toddler be learning?
Not gonna lie, there’s probably few things cuter than a little toddler saying please. Especially when it comes out as “pwease.” Asking for things with a “please” is often one of the very first manners toddlers learn.
It’s a pretty easy place to start. And since toddlers are constantly asking for snacks, there will be plenty of opportunities to practice!
Say “thank you”
Next, toddlers usually learn to say “thank you” soon after they learn to say “please” when asking for something. Which makes sense—the two typically go hand in hand.
Thank you’s are important because it helps to begin instilling gratitude in little ones. And of course, it’s also the polite thing to do.
Say “you’re welcome”
While this one may take a bit longer, learning to say “you’re welcome” when thanked is a good manner for toddlers to learn. It’s still pretty simple as far as manners go, but it’s another easy one that your toddler can learn pretty quickly.
Can we be real here for a minute? Even grown adults struggle to apologize when they should.
Now, that’s not an excuse to not actively teach your toddler to say sorry and apologize when needed. Just remember to be patient as you do—most of us are still mastering this art!
The need to say sorry often comes after toddlers have done something wrong. Maybe your toddler hit you, hurt you in some other way, or simple disobeyed. That can make the teaching experience feel far less enjoyable, and us moms more apt to lose our cool.
So be patient as you work to teach your toddler this crucial manner and skill.
While what constitutes as table manners can vary from family to family, it’s important to start working on table manners with your little one as soon as you reasonably can.
At this point, you want your toddler to be learning not to throw cups, plates, or silverware. Learning to use utensils correctly is another good table manner for your toddler.
Hold or open the door for you
Now, this one will likely depend a lot on your individual toddler. Is your toddler able to open the door by themselves? Is the door too heavy for your little one to hold?
While not everyone will agree with me on this, I think there are definitely some toddlers who are able to start learning this manner.
Recently, my toddler and I have gotten into a routine after we buy groceries. When we get home, I bring the bags in from the car, and it’s his job to open and hold the door for me.
It’s a good system for us, and he’s learning to be helpful and polite all at the same time. Depending on your toddler’s abilities, your house setup, and how close the door is in relation to the road, this may or may not work for you.
Of course, you can always practice this skill inside as well.
Toddlers are pretty well known for interrupting. And it’s common enough, that many of us forget that it’s actually a pretty rude habit.
Although most people will offer you grace when your conversation is interrupted by your toddler, it’s a habit worth replacing with the good manner of waiting patiently.
Personal boundaries might very well be the most important manner your toddler needs to learn. This manner is not just about politeness, but also about safety.
With everything going on in the world, it’s crucial for your toddler to understand the limits on personal boundaries. Knowing both his own and other’s boundaries will help keep your toddler safe.
Your toddler needs to understand what his/her private areas are, who is allowed to touch them and how/where, and how to say no if they don’t want to be touched in anyway, anywhere.
Start there, because ultimately those are the most important boundaries that toddlers need to understand.
Also be sure to help them understand that the same rules apply to others. Your toddler does not need to be in another child’s or adult’s personal space anymore than they need to be in his.
Keys to teaching good toddler manners
Unfortunately, knowing what you’re supposed to be teaching your toddler and knowing how to do it are two different things. Which, I think, is where a lot of us get tripped up.
We know what manners our toddler should be learning. But we often lack the know how to actually do it. As you begin the work of teaching good toddler manners, here are some important tips to help you along the way.
Teach by example
Alright, here’s my number one tip for teaching toddlers pretty much anything. You have to lead by example!
Toddlers are little sponges; they soak up everything you do and say, and how you do and say it. If my toddler starts acting sassy to me, more often than not it’s because at some recent point I did or said something sassy too. But the same goes for the good things, too.
For example, when I realized he really wasn’t very good about saying please and thank you, I decided to try an experiment.
Without saying anything about it to him, I started intentionally saying please every single time I asked Elijah to do something. And to follow up, I said thank you every time he did it, even if it took several times of me asking.
It didn’t take long at all for him to catch on! Soon after he was saying please and thank you every time he asked and received something. And now it’s ingrained in him so much that he rarely forgets to say it.
Show when you correct
Now, there will inevitably be times when you need to correct your toddler for showing poor manners. When you do have to correct your child, instead of just telling them what to do or not do, try showing them instead.
For example, my toddler has recently started getting into our personal space quite a bit. When we’re sitting or lying on the couch, he likes to come over and put his face right up in ours. I think he just wants to get our attention, but he also needs to learn that getting in our face isn’t the way to do it.
So, whenever he does it, I show him where he can be by gently moving him back until he is out of my face. While I don’t mind snuggling and hugging and all that, being up in my face is an unacceptable invasion of my space.
I also try to then show him a better way to get my attention—one that isn’t rude. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t always remember do to this. But I always have good success with him when I do.
Use imaginative play
Another great way to teach your toddler good manners is by incorporating it into their play time. Imaginative play is a great time to practice these skills.
For example, if you want to work on table manners, try teaching them while you and your toddler play with their play kitchen and play food. It’s both fun and a learning opportunity for them. Let them play and have fun, but also intentionally guide the play.
You wouldn’t want them throwing actual food at the table. So encourage them to play by keeping the play food on the plastic plates and not making a mess of it all.
Practice, practice, practice!
As with all things, learning good manners takes lots of practice. It’s true for us, and it’s true for our little ones. Take every opportunity to steer your toddler toward the manners you want him to learn.
While it may feel tedious at times, it will pay off—probably sooner than you think. Don’t let yourself get discouraged.
One of the hardest parts of parenting is just getting past the “I don’t see results yet” feeling and just focusing on being intentional. You can do this!
How is your toddler doing with these basic manners?
While manners can take time and a lot of intentional effort to learn, it is well worth the effort. And the sooner you get started, the faster and easier it will be!
Does your toddler struggle with a particular manner? What are you doing to teach good manners to your little one?