- Role Modeling. At first glance, this seems like something that should go without saying: if you want to teach good manners, you should remember to display them. But this can be easy to forget, especially in a moment of frustration. If good manners are your goal, though, the single most important thing you can do is to always remember your own manners. If you ask your toddler to hand you an apple, remember to say “please”, and say “thank you” once he does it. When he says “thank you”, remember to say “you’re welcome”. Remember that your children will imitate the behavior that you model for them on a regular basis.
- Don’t reprimand, just make your expectations clear. If your child does something rude, or forgets to say “please” or “excuse me”, don’t respond with criticism or anger. Say something like, “when you want something from the pantry, the polite thing to say is please. In this family, it’s important to be polite to others.” This way, she won’t remember being criticized or disciplined; instead, what she’ll take away from the encounter is that the expectation is that she will use polite language or do the polite thing. That expectation is what you want her to remember for next time.
- Practice makes perfect. You can’t expect a small child to remember all the rules of good manners after just a few reminders. Instead, it’s an ongoing learning process. Don’t get frustrated with having to remind him over and over again. Remember that repetition is one of the ways that children learn. Seek out and prepare opportunities for teachable moments for your little ones. Go out to eat so that you can practice “restaurant manners”. Give little gifts so he can practice showing gratitude (“practice” gifts may be a good idea shortly before a holiday gift exchange with the relatives, it can up your chances of a child who says a polite “thank you” instead of “yuck, a sweater. I wanted a toy.”)
- Try not to patronize. It’s not polite, after all! Trite sayings like, “what’s the magic word?” seem cute when your child is three years old, but simply disrespectful and humiliating when you’re dealing with an older child. Simple reminders or, if it comes down to it when your child is older, ignoring rude requests, can go a long way in teaching your child what’s appropriate.
While it’s true that the job of instilling manners in children can be time-consuming and even frustrating at times, it is a worthwhile endeavor. Eventually, you’ll realize that your demanding toddler has turned into a polite, well-mannered child.