Teaching toddlers manners is challenging, but focusing on a few key areas can make it easier.
As parents, the importance of teaching “please” and “thank you” to our kids is entrenched in us. When my 3-year-old forgets to practice these basic manners, I’m on him in a heartbeat. But, I’m coming to the realization there is so much more to teaching our kids about overall politeness.
The importance of saying this or doing that is figured out over the course of a lifetime, but there are some fundamentals we can try to teach our kids to get them off on the right foot. The days of children being seen and not heard are long over, so I’m working hard to make sure what comes out of my toddler’s mouth only makes me cringe about half of the time.
Here are areas to consider focusing on when teaching our little ones to be more polite, likeable human beings:
1. Awareness of Others
Most of us have been run into by an aimless kid who is walking in one direction while looking in another or zigzagging randomly up a stairwell, oblivious to everyone jumping out of their path. As we grow up, we eventually become aware that there are other people in the world around us. That awareness is a basic common courtesy and it also prevents grown adults from running into each other left and right! Nurturing this awareness can be as easy as saying “look forward” or “watch where you’re going” (1000 times). It is an ongoing battle, but it’s worth the work. My 3-year-old IS learning and those people he is about to plough through on a daily basis often shoot me a thankful glance for the nagging direction I’m giving him.
2. Hello and Goodbye
Along the lines of #1, there is a general practice that when someone arrives, they greet everyone with a “Hi”, “Hello”, wave, or something that acknowledges the other people who are present. Grown adults usually don’t just abruptly walk away from a group without at least a quick goodbye (I use the word usually, as there are always sociopathic exceptions to every rule). Teaching a toddler to acknowledge and address people properly instills a sense of respect for fellow humans and that respect will go a long way in building values based in empathy and compassion down the road.
Caveat: I quickly learned that encouraging my son to say “Hello” was resulting in his saying hello to every single person we passed. In the halls of his daycare, this wasn’t really an issue, but on a busy city sidewalk, it could be awkward and even dangerous. My quick correction to this is that if someone says hello, we say hello back, otherwise I tell him just our smile can be our “Hello”… Unless the person looks “really scary”; in that case, our ‘staring down at the sidewalk as we quickly shuffle by’ can be our “Hello.”
3. Patience – Life is Not a Race
I think this is one of the most difficult things to teach at a young age; heck, I’m still working on learning patience myself. As I constantly say, “Wait your turn”, I guess what I’m really trying to teach my toddler is that there is an order to things and fairness to that order. We wait in line because we know the rule of first come, first serve (I’m sure you’ve exchanged glances with others who are appalled when a grown adult breaks that rule and dares to cut in line at the store).
Waiting our turn, waiting for people, waiting for things,… All of these take patience and it truly is a virtue. One thing we have been working on is allowing others to walk through an entranceway first or, for bonus points, actually holding the door open for them. Another is to wait patiently when the elevator doors open and allow time for those already on board to exit before trying to barrel in (something I wished more adults practiced). All of these acts are about putting others ahead of yourself (both literally and figuratively) – a truly valuable lesson for our children to learn.
Although the above items were easy to spell out, teaching them to our little ones is definitely anything but. I try to keep them in mind as we go through our day to day and the rare ‘wins’, those times when you see them spontaneously use the manners you’ve drilled into them throughout thousands of hours of nagging, well, those moments make it all worth it. After all, is there any better feeling than when someone comments on how polite/well-mannered your child is? Well, I suppose there is, but it still makes me pretty darn proud.
Do you have any tips you use to teach your child manners, or have any etiquette-related pet peeves that you see in other children?
This post originally appeared on InfoQuench
She spends hours researching a variety of topics and loves every minute of it, but what she loves more is sharing what she finds with others. Knowing most people don’t have the time (or maybe the attention span) to scroll through lengthy articles, she aims to offer brief, clear, practical information you can read and implement easily.
Amy is a proud mom of a uniquely awesome little boy and is married to an equally awesome man. She is a member of Mensa International and works as an Operations Manager in New Brunswick, Canada.
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