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Please and Thank You: How to Teach Toddlers to Be Polite

on 21/02/2013 1300

At some point or other in our lives, we’ve all found ourselves in our local supermarket and have come across families with whining, maniacal children who become dramatically loud and abusive each time they are denied a sweet treat or toy. We have seen children stubbornly lie on the floor of a dirty shopping mall floor and we have also seen children steal, scream and cheat their way into getting what they want. We have all judged, pitied and prayed that when the baby personality lottery is given out, we would be the lucky ones to get the baby with the sweet, pleasant disposition.


Life in the twenty-first century is riddled with spoiled over achievers and narcissism, which is what makes the simple act of being polite a refreshing experience. Being well-bred and properly educated on social skills not only reduces family stress but also empowers your child with an added social advantage. After all, would we all still adore Taylor Swift if she was not a gracious, down-to-earth charming young lady?


Good manners breed good will, which will eventually flourish into well-earned respect. If you want your child to be treated fairly, then you simply must educate your child on how he or she can treat others decently. The challenge, of course, lies in teaching toddlers to appreciate seemingly meaningless words and phrases without inciting a rebellion filled with tears of frustration, swears words and broken toys.


The Best Time to Learn

According to German-born American psychoanalyst Erik Erikson, a toddler learns the value of his or her own self-esteem and independence between the ages of 18 to 36 months. It is also during this time when scary traits such as tantrums, defiance and stubbornness can appear, and it is important that the parents treat the period with care so that the toddler does not overly feel too much shame or too much pride during this vulnerable stage.


One of the most important things a toddler learns during this period is how to tell right from wrong, which includes the idea that everyone should be treated fairly and with kindness.


Say It Like You Mean It

The interesting thing about babies at this age is that while they are not yet ready for bigger concepts like numbers and values, they can be taught to automatically respond to certain conditions with the appropriate words. Young children live by rote, so always make it a point to use as many polite words as you can every day. Words like “please”, “thank you”, “excuse me” and “I’m sorry” may seem overly pretentious, especially when used around a loved one or family member, but it is also the exact mannerism a child needs to observe to learn courteous mannerisms. The bonus to this exercise is that you will eventually find yourself morphing into the kind and considerate person you want your child to be, which is important as everything your toddler does at this point in his or her life mirrors the exact actions that you yourself have demonstrated.


No One Left Behind

Teaching your youngest toddler to be polite is all for nought if the rest of your family members continue to be reckless and uncouth with each other. Gather your family members around and talk about how it is important that all of you start to make a conscious effort to use the right words and actions with each others, especially in front of the baby.


While some sentences and words may seem harmless such as rough housing, pinching and loud conversations, the fact is that babies are simply too young to differentiate one impolite act from another. Refrain from short sentences or seemingly impolite conversations even when done through the phone to truly protect your easily impressed baby from bad role models.


The Cool Parent

We are the generation of parents who understand the value of investing in fibre cable, Playstation and iPads. Hence, it is only natural that when it comes to bringing up the next generation of adults, we would prefer a softer, friendlier approach. The problem is that while older children may understand boundaries and the idea of respecting their elders, a little toddler may not understand why it is not all right to throw crayons at an adult whom all the elder children refer to as “the old man” or “dude”.  


Get your children to purposefully say respectful words whenever you converse in front of the baby. Similarly, also add every parental request you have with a polite “please” as well to demonstrate that politeness should go both ways. For example, instead of saying, “wash the dishes”, try “please wash the dishes” instead.


Positive Reaffirmation

The moment your toddler begins appending each request with a “please” or “thank you”, celebrate the moment to show encouragement and appreciation for their hard work. However, do note that your toddler is not a pet dog and does not require a sweet bribe each time they’ve been a good baby. Affectionate hugging, kissing and praises such as “thank you sweetie. I liked that,” will go a long way in affirming your child’s actions.


Beware the Television

Your toddler may be too young to log onto the Internet, but he or she will eventually end up parked in front of the television set with a tender brain eagerly absorbing all the colourful images flashing across his or her googly eyes. At the same time, be warned that banning television from your home would be akin to trying to prevent Adam and Eve from eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Instead, try to have a responsible adult accompany your baby whenever she’s watching her favourite cartoons on television so they can be at hand to answer any curious questions your baby may have. If there are no trustable adults at home, another alternative would be to load up the DVD with the latest Barney and Friends episode so you can have at least have a cup of coffee in peace.


More Books, More Talk 

Young reader books about being well behaved and well mannered children can go a long way in educating the child in determining the right way to behave. Like Barney the Dinosaur, the children in storybooks are seen as a role model so select stories about how children who have acted accordingly are rewarded justly. Topics about children with bad behaviour should also be discussed so your toddler can better understand why it is important to behave a certain way.  After all, it is just as important to teach your toddler that he or she should not shun a certain friend simply because they are ill behaved or have made a mistake. Humility, understanding and forgiveness should also be encouraged attributes in your family.