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Toddler Manners: Can I Get A "Please" With That?

Top techniques for cultivating a courteous kiddo

Repeat, repeat, repeat. "I’m a firm believer that there is no excuse for poor manners, so it’s very important to me that my daughter learns to be polite," says Jennifer Emerson, a mom in Papillon, Nebraska. "I constantly use please and thank you with my 16-month-old. Even when she just brings me her little toys, I’ll say thank you. Kids love to copy—she now says these words, too!"

Play a game. Use dolls, puppets, and whatever other toys your child likes to role-play everyday manners. Say, "I’ll be the mail carrier—who do you want to be?" and greet your child’s chosen character politely: "Hello, how are you today?"

Take advantage of mealtimes. They’re the perfect setting for teaching manners to toddlers. Start by modeling respectful behavior—making eye contact and speaking in full sentences—and listen and respond to your child’s contributions. And when he asks if you could "pass the rolls, please," and thanks you when you do, compliment his courtesy.

Help kids understand why manners matter. Before kids can have good manners, "they have to grasp the reason they exist," says Steven C. Atkins, co-author of Teaching Your Children Good Manners. So if your toddler grabs a toy from another kid at the playground, take her aside and say simply, "It is not polite to grab. You don’t like it when someone takes something from you. That’s why we do the polite thing and say, ‘Can I please have a turn?’"

Practice what you preach. "If your child is rude to you or someone else, use a voice that is firm, but not mean, to remind her of your expectations," says Atkins. Being consistent and fair will show your toddler that good manners are something you expect all of the time.

Praise politeness. "My partner and I make a point of saying, in front of our son, the way that good manners make us feel," says Karin Dahlstrom, a mom in San Francisco. "For example, when I’m thanked for cleaning up a mess, I’ll respond: ‘You’re welcome! I can tell you appreciate my taking the time to clean up because you thanked me so nicely. That makes me feel great.’ We feel a little silly talking this way parent-to-parent, but we want our son to understand that manners are an expression of caring for someone and not just empty formalities."

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