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The Magic Words: Teaching Your Toddler Manners

Find tips on teaching your toddler proper manners.

In this article, you will find:

The magic words
Setting an example

The magic words

The Magic Words: Teaching Your Toddler Manners

In teaching your two-year-old how to behave politely, concentrate on the "magic words." This teaching will feed into your child's already strong urge to learn and master new words.

You can heighten your child's motivation to use these words by telling her that each phrase has a secret power. Toddlers want to feel powerful. So let your child know that with just one or two words, she can exercise a very special and magic effect on other people—and that these magic words give her the power even to influence grown-ups. All of them, when spoken by a toddler or preschooler, tend to make adults smile. But each has specific powers as well:

  • "Please" makes grown-ups much more willing to help your toddler or to give her something she wants.
  • "Thank you" pleases grown-ups by letting them know that your toddler likes what they have given her or done for her—and makes them even more willing to do more favors in the future.
  • "Excuse me" or "Pardon me" allows your child to get the attention of an adult who is having a conversation or is otherwise absorbed in something other than the child herself; also has the power to move adults who are blocking your toddler's way or to win forgiveness from someone she bumps into.
  • "I'm sorry" perhaps the most magical of all, because it actually helps to fix hurts, whether your child has injured someone by accident or on purpose.

After your child learns that these words have magical powers, she will want to use them even more.

After you've taught your child the basics about how to use these words, you'll need to follow through if you want to encourage her to use them. Don't respond directly to what your child is saying if she leaves these "grease" words out. Of course, you'll probably need to remind your two-year-old (and your three-year-old and your four-year-old, etc.) many, many times to use these words.

If your child screams, "I want juice!", explain that you'll be happy to get her what she wants—but only if she asks for it politely. Then stick to your guns. Don't cave until your child stops yelling. If she changes her tone but still forgets to say, "please," help her out by prompting her a little. Then and only then should she get what she wants.

Or if your child starts talking to you while you're on the telephone, do not respond to her except to remind her to say, "Excuse me." When she does, excuse yourself from the phone for a few seconds either to tell your toddler that you'll listen to her in just a minute or to address her concern quickly.

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