Raising a Child With Good Manners
Ages 2 to 3: Civilization Dawns
They're still operating with limited self-control, but as toddlers head toward 36 months, new and stronger brain circuitry helps to improve memory, language, and impulse control. The result: manners appear.
* Take action. You can't expect your child to have good manners without your help. So if your son has taken another child's toy at the playground, step in and insist that he return it.
Inform him that if he won't let go of the toy, there will be a consequence. And don't imply that he's the one who gets to make a decision about the toy. "Don't say 'I'd really like you to think about giving the toy back,'" says Diane Ehrensaft, Ph.D., a mom of two and the author of Spoiling Childhood: How Well-Meaning Parents Are Giving Children Too Much -- But Not What They Need. "It's asking too much for a child to make that decision." The fact is, he doesn't really have a choice in the matter and has to know he has no choice.
Reminding a child of an imaginary character he doesn't want to be like can help. When her children were young and refused to say "I'm sorry," Ehrensaft says she'd remind them that they were behaving like Veruca Salt, the rude and self-centered girl in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. "Nobody in their right mind would want to be Veruca," says Ehrensaft. "So one quick reminder with a warning look was enough to make them stop and think."
* Use rewards. Bill Hennes, gym director at the Rogue Valley School of Gymnastics, in Medford, Oregon, has gotten hundreds of little kids to behave in tumbling class. His secret? Praise. "My approach is to use positive repetition: 'We need to stay in line. Good job. Good job.'" But it's not magic, he says. "Patience and persistence are also required."
At home, Hennes uses the same principle at the dinner table. If his kids say "please," they're rewarded with what they've asked for. Tyler, 3, has the verbal skills to say, "Please may I have more grapes," Hennes feels, while 2-year-old Josh can get by with "Please more grapes."
* Provide distraction. Sitting through a long dinner is tough for a 2-year-old. Accept that. So to make dinner with friends bearable for him and fun for you, go ahead and give him paper for scribbling or a toy for quiet play.
Distractions can also help when you're on the phone. "When my kids were young, I tried to plan calls for when they were napping," says Marsha Gerdes, Ph.D., a mom of two and a pediatric psychologist at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. "I also kept a basket with crayons, paper, and stickers near the phone for times when I couldn't postpone a call."
But keep calls brief. No 2-year-old can be expected not to interrupt a 20-minute phone call.