You don't have to be perfect to be the perfect parent!

Are the “Magic Words” still important?

Why is it that so often when you want your child to be on his or her best behavior…the most embarrassing things happen?  (Remind me to write about my son when he was 2 1/2 and dinner with our parish priest…long story)  Simply, because children are not born with manners…and the development of manners is a process, a LONG process, a LONG and IMPORTANT process.   This process of learning the all important life skill of manners  is much easier when started very young during formative years.  Words like “please” , “thank you”, “ excuse me”, and “I’m sorry” need to be taught, practiced, and modeled at home from the time your child is a baby.

Manners really help shape a person’s character, help increase a person’s self confidence, and definitely help make a person more likeable.  Manners are a part of most successful people’s lives.  People that naturally practice good manners have less focus on “self” and more focus on the respect of others. That is what I want for my children! Manners are so much more than just please and thank you!

Our children are exposed to very different social norms today.  Society is very open and allows honest expression of feelings.  I agree that honest expression is important, but we need to teach our children ways to respect the needs and feelings of others while still expressing their own feelings and needs.

I think some of our pop culture actually rewards disrespect.  Some of the most popular TV shows, popular music, and professional athletes glorify being rude and disrespectful…it has suddenly become “cool”.  As parents, it is our role to provide teachable moments so our children more often hear and see what is polite and respectful rather than what society may be teaching is the norm and “cool”.

So the fact is, no one is born polite.  In fact children, especially toddlers, tend to throw fits, grab toys, throw food, and display very few if any glimpses of manners…and we parents should not expect it!  Developmentally toddlers are not naturally polite!  However, your teen will not be polite either if you don’t start introducing the concept of manners and respect at a young age.

Where do you begin?

Between the age of 6 and 12 months begin with The Magic Words….

“Please”  “Thank you” and “Excuse me”

Saying please and thank you is usually the first bit of manners parents begin to teach.  You can begin this before your child is verbal.  Many parents teach the sign for “please” and “thank you” starting at about 6 to 9 months of age.  I see many of the youngest toddlers in my parenting groups sign “please” before getting their  snack!  Parents should always prompt, “What do we say?” or “Say please!” or “Say thank you!”  If your toddler aged child does not respond, then you should say the words and provide the sign for your toddler.  Soon, “please” and “thank you” will become a part of who your child is…and will be words that are used by habit.

Saying “Excuse me” when interrupting, bumping into someone, or (heaven forbid) making a bodily noise (which is hysterically funny for young boys especially) will also serve your child well.  Once again, forming the habit early and modeling the behavior for your child is essential.

“Play nice” “Gentle Hands” and “Share”

Toddlers are incapable of playing cooperatively and sharing nicely.  Preschoolers should have begun to master those concepts, but that will only happen with teaching and modeling the acceptable behavior.  When you begin to see your older infant or young toddler grab, push, or hit…respond with “Gentle hands.  Let’s play nice and share.”  Help your child share by trading the toys back, helping him take turns, and praising him for cooperating.  Toddlers who hit, shove, or bite when angry should immediately “take a break” or in other words a “time out”.  As you play with your child, trade toys back and forth, offer to share, model gentle touch and the behavior you want your child to learn.  After much practice, children will begin to learn how to play cooperatively, share, and respond with words rather than physical action.

“I am sorry”

Few words are more important in life than these.  Teaching your child to apologize when he or she is wrong or behaves in a way that is not respectful is an essential piece of manners.  Those words must be modeled by parents; apologizing to your child is essential to your child learning what a true apology is.  Again, teaching the sign for “sorry” can be the start.  Helping your child say “sorry” when necessary is also key.  If your child hurts another child or takes a toy, help your child apologize by prompting your child to sign or say the words, or say the words for him “John is sorry he shoved you, Mary.”  Talk about how saying sorry helps the hurt go away.

Talk and read about manners and respectful behavior every day. Some of my favorite books to introduce respectful behavior and manners to toddlers are:

Manners Time (Toddler Tools) and Sharing Time (Toddler Tools ) by:  Elizabeth Verdick and Marieka Heinlen

Perfect Pigs an Introduction to Manners by: Marc Brown and Stephen Krensky

OOPS , Sorry! A First Book of Manners by: Richard Morgan

My Very First Book of Manners by: Michal Sparks

No Slurping, Little Pig! A book About Table Manners by: Sue Kueffner

Take a breath, enjoy the joyful moments of each day, and remember you don’t have to be perfect to be the perfect parent.



  1. Hartke, Colleen

    Wow! We just went through this with Payton this weekend. She had a hard time owning up to her behaviors and simply saying I am sorry. This has happened before when I read your blogs. You seem to know when I need reinforcement. Thanks cindy! I love reading your blogs. Love you!

    Sent from my iPad


    • We all need someone to tell us we are on the right track! Glad it came at the right time for you…have a good Monday and a great week!


  2. My kiddo is great with please and thank you but has a difficult time saying sorry. Oddly it’s not so much that he doesn’t want to fess up to his actions, but more because he feels so bad about them that he’s really crushed that he’s the culprit, regardless of how big or small the “crime” is. So for me, I’m trying to show him that saying sorry is normal and polite as opposed to something that will deteriorate our character. And I’ve learned that the least effective way of having him realize this is by forcing it; so I rely on modeling it.

    And yes, don’t get me started on how media these days are all about rudeness. From cartoons to kid shows, it’s all about how cool it is to be sarcastic, not apologize or only do so begrudgingly, and how “kids rule, parents drool!” Ugh.


    • “Helping” him apologize by saying it with him or saying “I know you are sorry”…and then modeling is so very important! We parents need to stand up against the rudeness marketed to our kids…turn those shows off!



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