A toddler with impeccable manners sounds like a tall order at any time, let alone over the Christmas period, but your child’s behaviour may be under expert scrutiny by relatives. We look at ways in which you can teach your child some basic pleasantries, short of sending them to finishing school!

With accusations that today’s children are have few manners, it’s easy to get a bit hung up on this topic. Admittedly we aren’t as strict about our toddlers as our Victorian (or even Edwardian) ancestors may have been but we all want to have children who can behave nicely in public (even if they run riot at home). Especially important is for them to offer the basics in front of relatives, who may be ready and waiting to leap on them for the slightest omission.

Everyone needs social graces merely to get on in life. We have taken a look at what you can realistically achieve with a toddler to start them on the road to beautiful behaviour.

Set an example

It’s hopeless expecting your toddler to be the epitome of good grace if you’re uncouth at home! We’re not saying you have to resort to Victorian compulsions with manners but remembering a few basic pleasantries can set a good example for your children, e.g. always saying please and thank you, asking to be excused from the table if you need to get up for something and not shouting above other people when they’re talking.

If you treat others in the house with respect your child will hopefully mimic your attitude – after all, most toddlers love being like mummy or daddy. Recently I have had an embarrassing example of how my daughter sees me in the car. Whenever she climbs into a toy car, she shouts ‘Dammit!’ and acts aggressively. A case in point that I must either learn to be a more patient driver or not drive with my daughter present. Apply this lesson at home. Less of the ‘Oy! Give me back my moisturiser!’ and more of the ‘Could I have my Nivea please?’

“What’s the magic word?”

Your toddler will understand a lot more than perhaps you give her credit for and long before her speech becomes intelligible she will understand practically anything if it is expressed at a level that she can relate to.

Formal teaching of manners is usually started at about one year, when your toddler can talk and communicate. Setting the groundwork can begin much earlier; for example, using a stern tone and facial expression when a child 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 only happens over time.

‘Please’ and ‘thank you’ are the first courteous words parents normally try to teach their kids. When your child demands a lolly or a toy, add the word ‘please’ and wait for them to repeat it. The same goes for ‘thank you’. The little phrases our parents and grandparents used with us, such as ‘What do you say?’ and ‘What’s the magic word?’ can also help jog your toddler’s memory that they only get what they want if they ask for it nicely. It’s worth remembering that automatic use of these pleasantries will not happen overnight but with time and practice you’ll see (or hear) results!

Time at the table

Another major area where manners are often needed is at the dinner table. Toddlers naturally have a short attention span and won’t be interested in spending longer than five minutes sat still. However, when you go out for a meal with friends, have people over for Christmas dinner or even want to have a proper family meal, your kids will need to learn how to be patient.

When trying to teach your child this, you need oodles of patience and also reasonable expectations. Try starting off with five minutes of them sitting nicely at the table and gradually increase it to fifteen, for example. Using a kitchen timer can help with this as at least they will have a concrete goal to work towards! If you’re going out for a meal with friends and family, have a quiet talk beforehand to explain that this is a chance for her to show off her new ‘grown-up’ skills. When she does sit still, praise her for it, as all toddlers love attention! If everything starts going pear-shaped, try to stay calm and ask them cheerfully to
try to remember what you talked about. If that fails, excuse yourself and your daughter from the table and take her out of the room for a minute or two to explain why you need her to behave properly. Often, a little calm encouragement can work wonders.

“Nice to meet you … to meet you nice!”

Most two-year-olds are capable of a cheery ‘Hello!’ or ‘Goodbye!’ and often use these greetings to great effect to woo old ladies and cheery shop assistants. However, their use can be wildly unreliable too. Just when you think your son is ready to go up to Auntie Maude and greet her with a clear ‘Hello’ he screams in fear and hides behind your legs.

Toddler Hiding

This is perfectly normal and, hopefully, friends and strangers alike will laugh it off. However, do encourage your child to attempt a simple greeting as it will help pave the way for more advanced expressions such as ‘Pleased to meet you’. You can prepare your child for these occasions in advance by saying, ‘We are going to visit Grandma today and it would be lovely to say “Hello Grandma” wouldn’t it?’. Fingers crossed they will remember without too much cajoling, which can be just as embarrassing for the recipient as for the giver!

War and peace at the playgroup

Often, the first quarrel you will witness will be between your toddler and her friends. Sharing toys never goes down particularly well at this age and sharing toys seems an outrageous request to a possessive two-year-old. While you can be assured that this is normal, it’s best to try to get your child to accept that sharing is a nice and friendly thing to do – and the sooner the better.

Easier said than done, though. You could try tackling this by laying down some basic ground rules. If there’s a toy that everyone wants to play with, insist that they take it in turns for a short period of time.

No one is allowed to hit, shove or call people names in order to get that toy. If your child insists on trying to grab the toy from the other child, respond with a clear warning that if the behaviour continues, playtime will have to end or your child will have to have a time out. Equally, if your child gives up the coveted toy, praise them for their generosity ‘That was very kind of you to share your bear with Amanda!’. If she sees that acting nicely gains your respect she will be keen to carry on in this vein.

And don’t forget once again that you have to lead by example in this! If your partner is watching football on the TV and Coronation Street is about to start, ask politely if you can change the channel rather than shouting ‘No football!’ and running off with the remote.

Have fun, enjoy being sociable and try to remember that leading by example will pay off….