Parenthood. It’s the only job where the ‘boss’ gets to call you a poo head (or worse) and not get fired.
While toddlers and good manners don’t always go hand in hand, there IS light at the end of the terrible twos tunnel.
It is possible to help your toddler learn what good manners and acceptable behaviour look like. You’ve just gotta use the right strategies.
Ages, stages and expectations
So what should we expect, realistically, of our mini dictators when it comes to toddler manners? Sitting quietly at the dinner table and complimenting you on how well you’ve mashed their potato? Unlikely (even parents of teenagers aren’t that lucky). Learning the basics of good manners and polite interactions? Yep, that’s definitely possible.
Children as young as two can learn what manners look like, though it may take awhile for things to stick. Good manners are a learnt skill. Your toddler needs help in the beginning to develop and understand what ‘being polite’ and ‘using good manners’ actually means. We’ve rounded up five ways to help develop toddler manners.
5 Easy Ways to Help Your Toddler Develop Good Manners
1. Model the behaviour you’d like to see
Parents and carers are a toddler’s greatest teacher. They do what you do. A serious responsibility indeed. Ensure you add ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ when making requests of them. And expect them to do the same in reverse. Yes, adding ‘please’ to the end of the gazillion requests that come with a two-year-old each day might get old, fast. But just remind yourself that you’re helping prevent a whole bunch of spectacularly bad rat-baggery in the future. Yes, manners might start with a single cookie, but it’s the long game that’s important.
2. Stop ‘ghosting’ for good
Let’s face it, we’ve all got a few ghostings under our belt. As an adult, sometimes it’s unavoidable (nobody likes the ‘goodbye gauntlet’ at 11.30pm when the babysitter is ticking over by the minute). It’s a different story for kids. There is nothing worse than the three-year-old who seems to appear at the party in a puff of smoke, leaving you wondering how long they’ve been on the premises. Or the two-year-old who wanders off at the end of a playdate without so much as a goodbye. Get it right at the toddler stage and you just may end up with kids who don’t ghost when they’re grown-ups. Make saying ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ a non-negotiable. When arriving at a playdate or event or even just at grandma’s house, remind your toddler to say hello. The same goes for saying goodbye.
3. Teach sharing skills
Learning to share is a biggie. Toddlers, as a rule, are not keen on handing over their prized possessions, be that a favourite toy, their big brother’s toothbrush or a random peg they found wedged under a carseat. Sharing however, makes the world go round and it’s important to encourage this skill from as early as possible. While your two-year-old may struggle to completely grasp the concept, integrating sharing behaviour and language is very doable. Raising Children recommends pointing out and praising sharing in other (“Olivia was sharing her dolls with you, isn’t that nice of her?!”), rewarding sharing behaviour when you see it, and making the learning process fun with games, stories and songs that involve sharing and turn-taking. Remember, it’s the long game. Your toddler is likely to fail miserably at this many, many times. But hang in there and you’re on the right track to avoiding turd-like future behaviour.
4. Praise good behaviour (over and over and over again)
It is super (super) easy to pick up on less desirable behaviours and ignore the good stuff. Yes, preventing Billy from belting Arlo over the head with his Tonka truck instead of sharing may require some, ahem, strong language. But do try and balance out the stern with the encouraging. Make a point of praising your toddler when they show good manners. Whether it’s asking nicely for a snack, thanking a friend or sibling or sharing their digger with poor Arlo, let them know how well they’ve done. If they forget their manners, it’s also important to pull them up on it in a way that doesn’t create drama or a tantrum. A gentle reminder of what they could have said (and why it’s important) is much more effective in the long run than ranting and raving.
5. Give reminders ahead of time
Got a party or play-date coming up? It’s stimulus central – especially if sugar’s involved – and it makes sense that situations like these pose a sizeable threat to good manners and polite behaviour. Remind your toddler in the lead up to the event and at regular intervals throughout the day about remembering their manners. This will help plant a seed and trigger their memory. Let them know, very clearly, what kind of behaviour you expect and how important it is to take-turns and say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ when offered something. After all, it’s the best way to make sure your child is invited back!