Welcome to Joyful Toddlers!

This space is about increasing our enjoyment of the young children in our lives through concrete action and by adjusting the lens through which we view them. My work comes out of LifeWays, which is inspired by Waldorf education. I welcome your comments, and questions about increasing your enjoyment of the children in YOUR life.


Thursday, September 16, 2010



The Importance of Manners

The biggest single thing you can do to increase your enjoyment of the children you care for: teach them manners. I never realized how important manners were to me, until I suddenly started working in a room with nine two-year-olds. It was completely clear to me: the children who were polite were enjoyable to be around, and the children who were not polite grated on my nerves.

Not only do manners make our children more enjoyable to us, but having manners is an important skill for them to get along successfully in the world. Pleases, Thank Yous, and Excuses Me's are the lubricants that help social interactions run smoothly. Stopping to ask someone who's crying if they're alright is not only polite, but it helps develop empathy. Learning how to ask for help in ways that people want to say “Yes” to, is a skill that will serve the children in your care for the rest of their lives. Many people are lax with teaching young children and manners, especially with two-year-olds. I'm not sure why this is; perhaps they think they're “too young”? But manners are a way of talking and a way of being, and after spending time with lots of toddlers, I believe that they should be taught as children learn to talk. There is no tyrant worse than a two-year-old tyrant, unless it is a three- or four-year-old tyrant!

One of the stumbling blocks is that parents often think that manners are something that children will just “pick up” on their own. While many children do eventually pick them up (if they see manners around them and manners are expected from them in return), the process can go much more smoothly and enjoyably if manners are taught as a skill. They are a social skill, and teaching our children this skill will help us all.

How to teach manners

-Children learn primarily through imitation, and through action. Therefore:
Through Imitation:
-Be sure that you use the manners that you'd like to see, both with your child and with other adults and children you interact with (for instance, saying “excuse me” is much more polite than saying “watch out” if a child is in your way).
Through Activity:
-Expect your child to use manners.
-When a child fails to ask for something politely, simply say the words you wish they were using: “May I have some more, please?” Chances are they will repeat them after you, in the exact tone of voice. There doesn't need to be any discussion about it. For two-year-olds, I make the phrases very simple: “More, please!” For three- and four-year-olds, I use the “very-polite-way” of asking: “May I have some more, please?”
-When they do ask for something politely, you can let them know the effect:
Child: “May I have some more, please?”
Adult: “Yes! When you ask so politely, I'm happy to give you more.”
-When a child gets to the point where he remembers to ask politely much of the time, you can make a game out of remembering. I have a boy in my class, Devin, who is almost 4. About half the time he remembers to say “More please!” but the other half, it comes out as a demand: “More!” I'll look at him, and gasp. This usually elicits a laugh, and is often enough to remind him to quickly squeeze out a “Please!” If it's not, I'll gasp again and pull on my ear, looking at him expectantly. If he STILL doesn't remember, I'll say, “I hear you asking, but I'd prefer to hear you ask the VERY polite way.” If he STILL can't get it out, which sometimes he can't, especially if we're being silly, then I'll cue him: “May I have some more, please?” Usually at this point he'll sit up and say it, but sometimes, if we're very silly or very grumpy, he still won't say it. At that point, I'll say, “I can tell you're thinking it.” As I serve him some more, I'll say, “I bet next time you'll remember to say it, maybe even all on your own.”

NOTE: It's important not to make it into a power struggle where a child has to do it because you want him to; rather, it should just be something that is generally expected. When they fail to do it, simply set up the vision of them being successful at it the next time, and move on.

I'll talk more about other types of manners later: Helping children ask for help is a big one, and what to do with a whiny child, and child-to-child manners (sharing, etc.).

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