Teaching your toddler good manners

If your toddler blurts out rude words, plays up at the dinner table or refuses to say please, it’s time to teach some totiquette, says manners expert William Hanson

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It might feel acceptable to let the odd rude moment from your toddler slide, but there’s actually no excuse for this kind of behaviour, according to straight-talking child etiquette expert William Hanson. “Remember, you’re not being mean by teaching and enforcing good manners, courtesy and respect in your child,” he says. “They are all positive behaviours which inspire positive feedback to your child from others.” Follow William’s expert advice on how to teach your little one totiquette.

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Your toddler won’t sit at the table

The solution: “The very least you can expect from your child is to sit at the table for her meals,” says William. But don’t expect her to sit still if you’re doing other things. “Even if you’re not eating with your child, make a point of sitting down with her, perhaps with a cup of tea, showing her in a positive way that the dinner table is where you eat and drink. If she gets up and roams, firmly tell her to return to the table, take away any food in her hands and replace it on her plate.”

Your toddler won’t use table manners

The solution: “It’s ok for babies to use their fingers to eat, because that’s how they explore different foods and textures,” says William. “But eating messy foods designed for forks with fingers after the age of 4 is not good manners. “Try to introduce a fork or spoon early on, say around 14 months, then a knife and fork at about 18-20 months. Even early on, you can gently encourage her to swap hands, and definitely discourage her from putting her knife in her mouth,” says William. A meal should be relaxed and sociable, so talking at the table’s ok. “But by the time she’s 3 or 4, you can ask her to finish what she has in her mouth before contributing to the discussion. If she then insists, tell her you will only listen to her after she’s finished what she’s chewing.”

Your toddler won’t say please and thank you

The solution: “These words should come naturally to your child whenever she is asking for or receiving something from someone,” says William.”If your child asks for something without saying please, you don’t give it to her until she does,” says William. If a tantrum looms, the worst thing you can do is give in. “Even before she can speak, say please and thank you to her as you hand her a toy or she gives you a toy. It becomes a natural trigger word in her mind and should come naturally to her as she begins to speak.”

Your toddler won’t share

The solution: “Toddlers are notorious for finding it difficult to share their toys, but it should be encouraged from an early age,” says William. “If she’s playing with another child and that child asks for her toy, suggest it would be lovely if she did give the toy to her friend for a while, as she can play with it all the time at home,” advises William. Remember to praise her for sharing. If she point-blank refuses, don’t grab the toy from her, but do let her know it’s disappointing she hasn’t felt able to share. “Afterwards – perhaps in the car on the way home – reinforce the message that sharing is good. Try saying, ‘Sharing’s how you make friends and if you share, they’ll share with you’.”

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Your toddler keeps interrupting

The solution: “Unless it’s a dire emergency, like sickness or needing the loo, a child should learn not to interrupt adults when they’re talking,” says William. “If she interrupts, tell her to wait her turn and continue your conversation. Never pander to an interrupting child. It’s rude of her to interrupt, but also rude of you to break off from a conversation with another person,” says William. What if she persists? Ignore her until you’ve finished your conversation, then give her your full attention. William says: “Remind her first that it was rude of her to interrupt. If she’s waited patiently, praise her for her behaviour.”

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