Can You Teach Manners to a Baby?

It’s never too early to start!

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Babies are known to fart loudly, interrupt conversations, and throw things without regard for cost or fragility. That’s why we don’t hand them anything that’s expensive or delicate. Or let them run for president.

So in general, I think we can agree that babies have terrible manners.

But, as they grow into toddlers and three-nagers, it’s amazing to see how they acquire language and imitate us, and some of the most rewarding moments come when they say please and thank you.

But how do you get there?

1. Baby Signs. Toward the end of baby’s first year, I begin using hand motions along with words. This gives baby a way to ask for things without crying, before they have words. “More” is the most useful, followed by “Help”.

2. Bundle the words. I so admired how my friend’s 18 month old asked not for more yogurt, but more, please, when he was a new talker. She had simply taught him that phrase as a unit, always asking, “Do you want ‘More, please?'”

3. Don’t expect too much! Little kids are learning how the world works, and investigating a cause and effect scenario — what happens when you knock your sippy cup to the floor — is an unavoidable phase of development. Since you’re the adult, you’ll have to decide if the behavior is acceptable for the situation or if you need to take your child outside, for the sake of other restaurant patrons or party guests. In this case, the question is whether or not you have good enough manners to make the right decision. (And I totally get if you are pouting because you had to leave when your kid would not stop kicking the sliding glass door.)

4. Teach skills during down time. Practicing turn-taking and helpful behaviors during pretend play, when you can act really over the top with generosity and appreciation will let the lessons sink in more than when the pressure of a playdate and a favorite toy are heating up the room. Practice makes progress, not perfection. Sorry.

When you get an unsolicited “Mommy want a turn?”, even if it’s a turn pushing a plastic truck across the screen of your television, it’s hard to say no. The kid has learned consideration!