Teaching good manners and social skills to your toddler

Yes, it IS possible to have a polite toddler! Jo Frost reveals how to take your child's manners beyond please and thank you

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When your child becomes a toddler, you’ll look back on the baby phase with rose-tinted specs, remembering how easy he was to control… Now you have a child who won’t share his toys, gets shy when a grown up talks to him and who’s favourite words are “no” and “why”. But help is at hand! We asked Supernanny Jo Frost how to turn your tearaway toddler into a well-mannered young child.

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The importance of manners

“Politeness is one of my main principals,” explains Jo.  “Manners are a cornerstone of teaching children how to behave in social situations. Good manners aren’t something children are born with so it takes time and repetition to instill them and make them second nature.”

Be a good role model to your toddler

Jo reminds parents that it’s their behaviour that their toddlers will mimic.

“Everything we do around our little ones is an example that we’re setting,” she explains. “So it’s up to us to convey what we want them to do and what we don’t. Even our unconscious actions can be copied, so watching what we do has a huge impact on toddlers’ development.”

It’s never too early to start teaching manners

“I would say you can start instilling manners at around a year, or a little before,” Jo advises. “Once you start to hear the first words and syllables  – words like dog, cat, woof-woof – you can start breaking down paragraphs and sentences into simple building blocks that your child can understand. So you can start by saying a long ‘taaa’ and then slowly turn that into ‘thank you’.”

Jo explains that to begin with toddlers will just repeat exactly what you say. “It’s not until they’re older that they realise what the words they’re saying actually mean. It’s good to get them into the habit of saying please and thank you, even though they won’t completely understand why initially. It takes a while to move on to the idea that manners aren’t just about saying what they’re told, but are more about their general behaviour.”

How to get your toddler talking to adults

Talking to unknown adults can suddenly make the most boisterous toddlers turn shy. They don’t know about social niceties yet so it’s vital you show them how it should be done.

“Whenever I shake the hand of a toddler, I automatically teach him the pleasantries of social conduct,” says Jo. “If they say ‘hello’ to me, I’ll say, ‘look at me when you say hello’ so they know that’s what they should do. Showing how we do things can be practiced to help build up your child’s confidence. You can use role play or playing with pets to help them get comfortable with the idea before tackling strangers.”

But don’t get carried away and offer treats for social interaction, Jo warns. “This is not something I’d give rewards for, it’s too fundamental to your tot’s development.”

How to encourage sharing and make him a playdate star

Playdates can be a social minefield. It’s always embarrassing when your toddler kicks off over sharing when his wonderfully behaved friend can’t wait to give her toys away. But it’s all about setting expectations beforehand, and understanding why your toddler might not want to share.

“Some days you just have to accept the fact that your child doesn’t want to share a sentimental toy. But make it clear that he has to share the rest… It’s what I call a ‘King of the Castle’ situation, which is where the child learns that when other children to come over and play with his toys, the experience is bigger and more fun than just the toys themselves,” Jo says.

“My top playdate advice would be to get all the children there to put the toys away together at the end so everybody is contributing to play and to putting away.”

Watching your baby become a toddler is an exciting and infuriating time so Jo has written a book dealing exclusively with toddler behaviour. Jo Frost’s Confident Toddler Care is out now (£16.99 hardback, £7.99 eBook) and catch her on TV in Extreme Parental Guidance, which returns to Channel 4 on Wednesday 6th July.

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Now, armed with Jo’s knowledge, go forth and make playdates!

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