A friend of mine was trying to get her toddler, Megan, into the bath one evening and suggested that since Granny was about to bath, she could just bath with her. To which she replied, in front of poor Granny, "No Mom. Granny's too fat, I won't fit into the bath as well!" Embarrassing? Certainly. Unusual? Certainly not. Toddlers are not generally known for tact, and teaching them the ins and outs of manners proves to be challenging at the best of times.
What exactly are they? "Good manners are more than simply knowing what to say, and when – they're built on empathy; on respecting other people's rights and personal space; and on treating them as equals who deserve the same common courtesy that we do," says author Colin Greer. In fact, manners are a reflection of the way that we interact with people. And although we may take them for granted, the reality is that children aren't born with them, they're bred with them.
Do toddlers understand the concept?
Toddlers can understand practically anything if it is expressed at a level that they can relate to. The clue lies in spending the time necessary to help them to understand the concept of manners until they feel confident with it. And it's never too early to start. Formal teaching of manners usually begins at about 1 year, when your toddler can talk and communicate.
However, setting the groundwork can begin much earlier, for example, using a stern tone and facial expression when she displays ill manners such as snatching or throwing food at the table. Bear in mind that it's a lot easier for a grown child to be polite if it is ingrained and automatic, which can only happen over time.
Do they serve a purpose?
Teaching your toddler manners is one of the ways to help her interact with the world around her. Good manners help to give children a strong sense of self, and the knowledge that they're "doing it right" helps to increase their confidence. And as a parent, there's nothing so heart-warming as to hear someone comment on your toddler being well mannered. Asking your toddler if other people's behaviour displays good or bad manners will also help her to develop a sense of perception. (And give her a sense of one-upmanship.) She will have to use her own conclusions of why and how people felt when placed in certain situations, for example: How do you think that old lady felt when you held the door open for her? Do you think Dan will want to talk to Paul again, if Paul always laughs at him?
Do as I say and not as I do?
Never try this on a toddler! Experts agree that the best, and most important, way of teaching toddlers manners is through good parental example. Toddlers are very observant of the adults around them. Julie Clark, author of Parenting Shorts (Suite 101 website) says, "Practice WITH the child the things you want him to know. Remember learning to tie a tie, or perfect your backhand? What did it take to master these things? Practice. So to with teaching our kids what they need to know – and they will do them because it has become second nature."
The action plan…
Firstly, it's a good idea to for you and your partner to discuss what manners you'd like to instill in your toddler. Both of you were brought up differently; so what may seem really essential to one partner might be frivolous to the other. Come to terms with the ones you both agree on and compromise on those you don't.
Once you've reached agreement, take a few moments to tell your toddler exactly why manners are important to you. Sharing your feelings with your toddler and helping her to understand the concept of manners is far better than dictating a bunch of rules for her to memorise. Then go on to discuss your expectations with your toddler.
Knowing the rules; your toddler might test you to see what you'll do, but if you're consistent with your demands and consequences she'll quickly learn what you will and won't tolerate from her. And be careful not to overwhelm her with so many dos and don'ts that she'll hate the very sound of the word "manners".
1. Telling her to be polite to those around her and then being rude to the cashier at the supermarket or someone on the road will confuse her, and actions speak far louder than words in a toddler's world.
2. Make use of the television. Take the time to analyse what your toddler watches and make use of the situations she sees by getting her to consider how it could have been different. For example, whose feelings were hurt? Why? How can we mend the situation? How can we prevent it? Is
3. If your toddler is rude to an adult, you may be prompted to shout or smack her, but bear in mind that the person she insulted is an adult while she's only a child and still learning. Embarrassing her in front of the person she's insulted may make that person feel better, but it's not worth the cost of your toddler's feelings or fragile ego. Instead, try calmly explaining to her why her actions or words were rude and ask her to apologise. Helping your toddler develop empathy like this will also help her to be more considerate of those around her.
4. Realise that it will take time for her to get it right. You just have to be persistent and if, for example, she doesn't say please when asking for something, try not to give it to her until she does.
There are four basic areas you can begin with
Day to Day manners
Make your toddler aware of the fact that everybody is different in their own way and that it's not good manners to make fun of somebody just because they're not like you. An important part of politeness is acceptance. Explain the situation to your toddler, for example, if she's staring at someone, ask her why and explain that staring can make people uncomfortable. Also answer any questions that she may have about the person
The Magic Words
Saying please and thank you is part of being considerate. Toddlers often forget to use them, but this is primarily because of their psychosocial development. "Remember that your child is in a teaching situation," says Dr. Maurice Elias, co-author of Emotionally Intelligent Parenting. "Don't get highly angry at your child, when your child acted in a way that he/she may have known better. Let your child develop and master this new skill…"
In today's fast-paced world there's often little time to eat family dinner around the table, which is traditionally where these manners were taught. Don't forget to teach your toddler the basics wherever she may be eating, like using a serviette or not speaking with her mouth full of food.
Answering the telephone
Most toddlers will rush to answer the phone when it rings, and then lose their tongues. Teach her say Hello, and perhaps introduce herself and allow the caller to respond before she launches forth with a barrage of questions. Remind her that if the caller asks to speak to you, she must remember to come and tell you so as not to keep them waiting on the line. Grandparents make perfect candidates for your toddler to practise on, ask them to make a few calls to your home for her to answer as part of her training.