RAISING a well-mannered child doesn't have to be a difficult task, even if your toddler tells you "no" whenever you ask them to use the magic words. Fact is, children are sponges for both good and bad behaviour, and it takes emphasis, persistence and consistency to make them do the right thing.
How early should you start? "As early as when they start saying their first sentences," early childhood educator Karen Kirlew said. "That's when they will have a perception of right and wrong, and that's the age you will also be introducing consequences."
She said this will be around age 18 months to two years, when many children would already be in the nursery/kindergarten system.
"It's emphasised at school and they will adapt when they see their peers doing it, but it's also important that you emphasise it at home, too," she said.
Here are some guidelines she shares for turning your talkative tot into a polite toddler.
Don't insist on it
"The worst thing you can do is insist on them saying please and thanks when they're already in a mood — like when they're hungry and tired and just want their sippy cup to soothe them," Kirlew said. "This is not the time to be asking them what's the magic word, and refusing to give them what they need if they don't say it."
Instead, she says, be the one to set the example. Greet the other members of the family using polite words, and use them in your everyday speech, and your child will adopt your language.
Be a good example
"No matter what's going on in the family, be a good example for your kids to follow," Kirlew said. "So when daddy gets home, he should greet the family, offer hugs and smiles, and ask them about their day. When you pick your toddler up from daycare, also engage them in conversation about their day. When you interact with service professionals, use the magic words too. You can't expect your child to associate the words with good behaviour if you don't practise them in the family and in your daily life."
Associate the magic words with good rewards
"Let them see that when they say please and thank you, or good morning and have a good day, people are more likely to grant their wishes when they ask for things politely and show gratitude. They will realise that when they make people feel good to be appreciated for what they do, rewards will follow."
"Please and thank you shouldn't be the extent of your expectations from your toddler — it's also important to teach them empathy, and how to be genuinely good people, instead of just repeating hollow words," Kirlew said. "Explain to them why it's important for them to use the words, and how the words make people feel, and how important it is to be accountable for their actions, so they understand that their words impact others," she added.
"When you start these lessons early, they will stay with your child for life," Kirlew said. "This is how polite children are made, and not just polite, children who are truly empathetic, and who care about other people's feelings. Well-mannered children become well-mannered teens, who evolve into empathetic adults."