A few days ago my toddler coughed and I realized that she made no effort to cover her mouth. This may not be unusual for a toddler, but it really stood out to this mama who was a nurse and public health professional before stepping out of the workplace to be a stay-at-home mom. I can’t believe I failed to teach her this simple courtesy!
This got me thinking about other manners and common courtesies. She knows to say “please” and “thank you,” and we’re working on some other courtesies like saying “excuse me” when she burps or passes gas. What other polite things should she, as a toddler, be saying and doing?
After giving it some thought, here are 10 manners and common courtesies I believe toddlers can and should learn.
Manners and common courtesies for toddlers
- How to say “please” and “thank you.” It’s a real pleasure to communicate with toddlers when they add a “please” to requests and say “thank you” when they’ve received an item or assistance. It’s very easy for toddlers to learn these expressions. In fact, they will often pick up on them simply by hearing their parents use them!
- How to say “excuse me” after burping or passing gas. Most toddlers find bodily noises to be quite funny and entertaining, so it may take many reminders before they learn that they need to excuse themselves. It’s important to teach this, though, so they will understand the socially acceptable ways to handle these when they occur in public.
- How to cough or sneeze into their sleeves or tissues. Toddlers will likely need a demonstration or two and frequent reminders before they effectively and routinely cover their mouths when they cough or sneeze. However, given how quickly illnesses spread among kids, this is worthwhile to learn!
- How to use quiet voices in quiet settings. Though they love shouting, singing at the tops of their voices, and laughing aloud, toddlers can learn that these are only appropriate at certain times and in certain settings. Likewise, they can learn that they need to use hushed tones or whispers in certain other settings (e.g., library, doctor’s office).
- How to use basic table manners. As toddlers are beginning to sit at tables instead of using highchairs and they’re learning how to use regular dishes and flatware, it’s a great time to teach table manners (e.g., how to use a napkin, how to politely ask for more, to remain seated until dismissed). If toddlers see the adults in their lives modeling these, they’ll pick up on them in no time! Keep in mind that a glass dish or two may get broken along the way, so prepare to be a little extra patient.
- How to use respectful titles to address adults. Toddlers easily differentiate between their peers and adults, so they can learn that it is generally appropriate to address adults by placing Ms. or Mr. before their names or to use “sir” and “ma’am.”
- How to greet and introduce themselves. Toddlers can’t understand the intricacies of greetings and introductions, but they can learn how to say a simple greeting (“Hello. How are you?”) and how to state their first and last names (“My name is Susie Smith.”). Most toddlers are also capable of learning how to shake hands. Many toddlers will actually find it neat to be able to do this!
- How to be respectful of the possessions and bodies of others. This is a very broad courtesy, but I’m thinking of several specific things:
- Not to take toys from friends.
- Not to hit, push, or bite.
- To knock before trying to enter closed doors.
- Not to stare or make comments about the appearances of others (most toddlers won’t be capable of this if they see something really salient, but you can introduce the idea and encourage them to focus on something else).
- How to clean up after themselves. Toddlers may need some help with this, but they can learn to put away their toys, to carry their dirty dishes to the kitchen sink, to toss their trash into wastebaskets, to place books back on their shelves at the library, etc.
- When and how it is appropriate to get the attention of adults. This is a particularly tough one! Toddlers can begin learning that it is generally inappropriate to interrupt adults who are in conversation or to create a stir in an otherwise quiet environment. They can also learn how to politely get a parent’s attention should they really need it. This is hard for toddlers because of where they are in terms of development (they don’t have a lot of patience or the ability to see things from another perspective), but the toddler years are a great time to help them start learning when it’s okay (and when it’s not okay) to interrupt and how to do this politely.
No toddler is going to master all of these and act politely all of the time. However, we should definitely model and teach these manners and courtesies because our toddlers pick up on things quickly and are surprisingly capable!
Of course, manners tend to be culture-bound, so these may not apply to every toddler. (“Culture-bound” refers to things that are valid only within a particular culture.) Depending on your location and background, a different list may be appropriate for you. However, I think these are pretty valid for a large number of American households.
Have you taught manners and courtesies to your toddlers? What would you add to this list?
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