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Jeanette Sawyer Cohen, PhD, clinical assistant professor of psychology in pediatrics at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City
Pediatric Psychologist

Q&A: How To Teach Manners?

How can I start to teach my two-year-old good manners?

Having what adults might think of as “good manners” is a completely foreign concept to most toddlers—it’s right up there with taxes and mortgages. But that doesn’t mean you can’t start to lay the groundwork early.

A two-year-old might not get why on earth he has to share his favorite toy with a friend on a playdate, or split a snack with a sibling, but you can clearly explain to him that he’ll have his own turn to play in one minute. First though, make sure you recognize that he’s upset. Say it out loud. Labeling his emotions helps validate his feelings, and the more specific you can be about the item and designating the length of time until he gets his toy back, the better. In the meantime, give him something else you know he likes to play with as a distraction.

As far as “please” and “thank you” are concerned, it’s never too soon to start introducing these words into the conversation. The more you use them, the more he will too. Remember that toddlers grow by leaps and bounds, which means in just a few months, the concepts of sharing and being polite will have far greater meaning to him than it does today. The key is to be patient and consistent.  
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