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The Magic Words: Teaching Your Toddler Manners

Magic, Not Miracles


A lot of times, you can avoid saying "no" by mastering the art of "yes, later." For instance, "Yes, you can watch some more TV after dinner." Or "Yes, I'll be happy to read you that book as soon as I'm done talking on the phone." Your toddler may find it much easier to accept a qualified yes than a "No, not now."

If you want to help politeness become a habit for your child, you'll have to offer him some reward for using the right words and intonation. Of course, this doesn't mean you need to give him everything he wants as long as he says "please" and "thank you." Your child has to learn that the magic words, while powerful, are not all-powerful. But though the magic words do not provide a free pass, they do earn your toddler a reasonable consideration of his request.

Though you can't give your toddler everything he wants, you can reward his politeness with your attention and praise. Listen alertly for these words. If you hear your child speak any of them, respond to them quickly and politely. Congratulate him for speaking so politely and honor your toddler's polite requests as often as you think appropriate. If you must refuse your child, do so firmly but politely.

Model Manners

Of course, the best way to instill proper manners in your child is to set a good example yourself. Are you polite and respectful to the people—adults and children alike—whom you meet during the course of the day? If not, your toddler—and later your preschooler—will catch you up in your hypocrisies and throw them back in your face.

If you want your child to behave with common courtesy, you will need to model that behavior. Your child needs to see you treat other adults—and children, too—with respect. Do you serve as the drill sergeant in your house, constantly barking orders at your child? "Get your coat on! Pick up those blocks! Put away those books! Get out of the bath!" If you do, you're not likely to get much politeness in return.

So if you want your toddler to do something for you, at least start by asking and using the magic word, "Please." Then if she does what you wanted, acknowledge your gratitude with a "Thank you." (Of course, if you ask a couple of times and your child doesn't move, then it may be time to start issuing commands.) None of us is perfect. But if you behave with common courtesy most of the time, your child will see it as expected everyday behavior-and model her own behavior after it.

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Parenting a Preschooler and Toddler, Too © 1997 by Keith M. Boyd, M.D., and Kevin Osborn. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit Amazon's web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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