We're finishing out the "terrible twos." I can almost see the light at the end of the tunnel. This year may have had arguments, tantrums, and a few instances of pulling the cat's tail - but through it all, my son has always said, "please," and "thank you." I celebrate these minor victories. Besides, the tantrums and irritating the cat are surely phases (right?), but good manners will stay with him forever.
We focus specifically on five rules in my house, hoping they'll lay the groundwork for whatever civilities come next. The basics right now are:
- "Please" and "thank you." I (impatiently) wait a few beats before prodding, "What do you say?" Though it's sometimes hard for me to hold back, he usually remembers by himself if given the opportunity. Plus, it's more of a proud moment of accomplishment when I give him the chance to remember on his own.
- Cover your mouth. This one is a sanitary issue as well as being polite. It's cold season!
- Sharing. My gut instinct is to force my son to hand over whatever he has whenever someone asks (or demands, or snatches, as the case may be) in the name of "kindness." I try to resist that impulse and instead encourage him to find a way to play together, or ask him to share some of his toys only once he's finished. Developing an understanding of turn-taking makes him less inclined to demand or snatch himself when a friend is playing.
- "Excuse me." When he needs to get by and someone is in the way. When he wants to interrupt a conversation with a request. When he makes sounds in public best expressed in the restroom (we're still working on the last one as it's more commonly met with a giggle fit).
- "Hello." I encourage my son to respond when someone speaks to him, but try not to pressure him when he feels uncomfortable. While being friendly is important, it's more important to me that he learns to trust his instinct rather than put someone else's comfort before his own safety.
These are really small steps in learning how to have polite interactions, but they're just the start. Once our time isn't tied up with mitigating emotional outbursts, maybe we can spend a little more time on the finer points of etiquette. For now, I'm content with just these five.
Liz Moorhead is an English teacher-turned-writer and illustrator. She paints stationery, writes for a top wedding site, and blogs at Happy Sighs between walks to the park with her two boys.