Teaching Manners

If you have been saying please, thank you, and you're welcome consistently to your child, there is a good chance she has already begun using those words herself. Two-year-olds don't always remember the polite words you'd like them to use, but they are familiar with them and understand them.

Two is the age at which your child begins learning manners from you, such as not to interrupt people or to keep her voice down. All the while, be realistic in knowing that most children at two can't yet control all their behavior. As you remind your child about proper behavior, recognize at the same time that two-year-olds aren't capable of being polite under most circumstances. Nevertheless, your setting an example of good manners by modeling politeness and respect for your child both offers her behavior to emulate and prepares her for social interaction in the future.

Demonstrating Good Behavior

You'll want to teach your two-year-old how to eat neatly, how to speak to others politely, and how to remain calm and quiet in most situations. That's a lot. So try to give instructions judiciously and without bombarding her with too much information. If you correct your child too much and too often, she may end up feeling self-conscious. Though it's often difficult to give your two-year-old instructions without seeming as if you're constantly correcting her, there are ways to do it.


When playing pretend, you have an opportunity to demonstrate good manners to your child. “Look, the doll wants to ask the horsey if she can ride him,” you can say. “Horsey, may I please ride on you? I can? Thank you so much.” “You're welcome,” the horse says. Your two-year-old will absorb the lesson in this nonstressful scenario.

You could say during dinner, for example, “When I eat, I try to keep my mouth closed because I don't like looking messy when I eat,” rather than commanding, “Keep your mouth closed when you eat!” Or you might remark, “I really appreciate that Grandma bought you a nice coat; I'm going to make sure I say thank you in an extra-special way,” instead of pointing out, “You forgot to say thank you to Grandma for the coat she gave you.” This approach is a form of teaching rather than of leveling criticism.

Instead of expecting your child to speak for herself, understand that most two-year-olds need you to be their mouthpiece. Rather than saying to your child at the end of a play date, “Say thank you to Mrs. Pagano for the nice day you had,” you can say in front of your two-year-old, “Jill and I want to thank you for such a nice day. We really enjoyed playing in your backyard.” This way your child won't be put on the spot, and she will appreciate being part of your good manners. She will learn that saying nice things to others also makes her feel good.

Offering Praise

If your child squeaks out a thank you or remembers to say please or thank you without being reminded, let her know how good you feel when she is polite. As always, paying positive attention to good manners rather than singling out poor behavior will pay off in a couple of ways. First, your child will be happy you noticed how well she is doing with adopting grown-up behavior. Since independence and doing activities by herself are quite important to her, she will appreciate having her behavior praised.

Second, your child will invariably want to repeat behaviors that get positive attention. So the more you praise what she does that's good, the more likely she'll do it again.

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