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4 min read

Social etiquette dictates what types of behavior are acceptable in social situations. People are not born inherently knowing the ins and outs of social etiquette. These boundaries are learned and toddlers are often given a lot of leniency in their behavior because most members of society understand that they need to learn their manners.


As the parent of a toddler, you are tasked with teaching your little one how to behave well. It is no small task as they often struggle in very off-putting, emotional ways like very public tantrums. As frustrating and embarrassing as these moments can be, they provide a learning experience for both the child and the parent.


Here are some ideas to make the process go a little more smoothly.


Be a Good Role Model

Most of what children learn is passive learning from observed behaviors from those around them. If a child regularly sees his or her parent losing their temper with the grocery store clerk, they will learn that poor treatment of wage workers is acceptable and possibly even expected.


Similarly, if parents often engage in arguments in front of children, they will learn to communicate with others by raising their voice, making threats, or being short-tempered. If any of these behaviors sound familiar to yourself, it could be that this learned behavior from your own upbringing.


It takes a lot of diligence to make sure you are always setting a good example for your children. Luckily it is more about the long-game so do not worry if you slip-up and they happen to witness your own poor behavior. Just be quick to address it with them. Own up to being wrong and be clear that the behavior they witnessed is unacceptable.


Teach the Basics

Make an effort to not only model basic manners, but to look for ways to actively teach them. Adding ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ to your exchanges is a great habit that automatically improves the perception of social exchanges. If you start practicing this language at home, it will become second nature for your toddler to tack these words on to their requests both inside and outside of the home.


As your toddler becomes more independent and more aware of their right to make choices, you will have to work a little more. By repetition and positive reinforcement, you can teach them how to ask for things politely instead of barking demands for a cup of juice or a snack.


Use Positive Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement works far better than negative reinforcement in any situation. When you observe your toddler using good manners, make sure to reward them. The reward can be simple verbal praise and a quick moment of your attention.


If you feel you need to, you can use stickers, candies or trinkets to reward good behaviors. However, in most situations, positive attention is the most effective.


Use a Behavior Chart

Some children respond particularly well to visual aids. It is pretty easy to forget about bad behaviors once the moment has passed. However, several bad behaviors throughout the day have a cumulative effect. Pretty soon your toddler's weak moments have earned them a reputation of being a troublemaker in your local playgroup.


A behavior chart can be a good solution for helping both of you keep track of how things are going on a given day. When creating a behavior chart, make something reusable. Design a fun colored, printable chart on the computer and laminate it for easy use week after week.


Include enough sections for each day of the week as well as 3 or 4 behavior categories that you want to track. Also, include a place to write down a reward goal to help motivate your child. For toddlers, include a little extra doodle room so you can add a picture of the reward to help with translation.


Use smiley faces or stickers to mark behavior each day. Talk about the chart often and if possible, let your toddler help put the stickers or smiley faces on the chart so that they feel included in the process.


Keep the Lines of Communication Open

Children, especially toddlers, need regular communication about expectations and their performance towards meeting those expectations. To be simple about it, you cannot expect a child to modify his or her behavior if they are not told what is appropriate and how they are doing.


When you observe your toddler modeling polite behaviors, communicate with them that you have noticed their behavior and it makes you happy. Toddlers are eager to please and receive positive reinforcement so simply acknowledging when they are behaving well will encourage more positive behavior.


When you observe your toddler modeling rude behaviors, stop the behavior and immediately communicate with them what was inappropriate and why it was inappropriate. This can be a good time to teach empathy by talking about feelings and how to treat others.


Be intentional in communicating both praises and constructive criticisms so that your toddler can learn what is expected of them. Avoid the pitfall of assuming that they will know you are pleased or displeased by the look on your face. Be clear in your communications and as much as possible, take the time to explain why.


The Take-Home Message

Toddlers are not really held to the same standards as adults in terms of acceptable behavior. In fact, emotional tantrums that include flailing, screaming and crying are pretty synonymous with this age group. But, society gives leniency to parents with the expectation that they are teaching their children how to behave well.


In each passing week, your little one will be expected to progress with their manners. The best thing that you can do to help them learn good behaviors is to model good behaviors yourself. Take the time to develop some good habits like including common social pleasantries in all of your interactions. And, be generous in acknowledging your child’s good manners when you see them.