Toddlers can definitely be a handful, but we can’t blame them. They still haven’t learned the rules of the world yet. However, their little brains are so flexible at this age and we need to take advantage of that by molding them into good humans now by teaching them good habits.
You can start teaching your toddler good habits as soon as they are able to understand and communicate with you. For most, this happens around 1 year, so this is a great time to start sculpting them into well-mannered and well-behaved children.
Habits take time to develop. Teaching toddlers good habits will take several weeks or months before it comes naturally to them. Experts say that habits take anywhere from 18 to 254 days to develop, depending on the person.
That’s crazy, right?
What that means is you have to be purposeful and patient with your toddler. Habits take time to form, but it’s worth the effort.
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How Do I Teach My Toddler Good Habits?
Since habits take plenty of time to develop, parents need to have patience and understand that development doesn’t happen overnight.
For example, sharing might be introduced early, but some experts say kids won’t share well until three to four years old. Patience is a virtue – remember!
So, if you want to teach your toddler good habits, here are some tips to get started.
1. Be A Good Role Model
Children are little sponges, and when you want to teach toddlers anything, you have to be their model.
Kids often pick up things we don’t want like cussing because they copy what their parents do. It’s a survival mechanism that still lasts in humans today.
If you want your child to say please and thank you, make sure you do so consistently as well. If you want your toddler to pick up their plate after lunch, always pick up yours as well.
2. Practice All The Time
Toddlers learn all day long, even if the parents are exhausted on the couch. They consistently pick up on things, so practice mode is all day long.
If you hand your child their drink and they don’t say thank you, gently remind them to do so. Never let teaching opportunities pass.
3. All The Positive Reinforcement
Children respond best to positive reinforcement; yelling at your toddler when they forget to pick up their cup won’t always work.
Instead, when you see your toddler working on the habits you want to see, compliment them.
“Max, I saw that you picked up your cup on the floor. That really helps mama out, thank you so much!”
“Lexi, you shared your blocks with your baby sister so nicely. You really made her happy.”
I notice that when I give positive reinforcement that explains how their behavior helps is most effective.
4. Have Family Ground Rules
Rules need to apply to everyone; kids appreciate fairness more than we realize.
I suggest creating (and display) family ground rules that no one can break. When broken, a consequence is handed out to the child.
Understanding rules and that consequences come from doing the wrong thing helps to reinforce positive habits as well.
12 Good Habits for Toddlers
1. Helping out
Little kids LOVE to help grown-ups. They want to do everything that you’re doing because they’re starting to gain this growing confidence and independence. Invite them to perform tasks that they may not be able to do independently, but that they can help you with.
- Get the mail
- Take the trash out
- Refill the toilet paper roll dispenser
- Help with cooking: mixing, adding ingredients
- Carrying in bags or groceries
- Fill the dog bowl
- Entertain a younger sibling
2. Hand Washing and Brushing Teeth
Hygiene is of the utmost importance, so make sure you include these practices when developing habits for toddlers.
Handwashing prevents the spread of diseases and infections. Teach your toddlers to wash their hands after using the potty, touching pets, and before eating.
Keep a step stool near the bathroom sink with foam soap that makes it easy for toddlers to wash their hands without your help. Toddlers love autonomy!
We all know that brushing our teeth is another vital piece of our health puzzle. Teach your toddler to brush his teeth twice per day.
Explain why brushing our teeth is so important, and make sure you keep up your six-month cleaning schedule for your toddler.
3. Sense of safety
Of course, safety is a crucial lesson to teach your child. This is the age where they will probably have no fear or understanding of dangerous situations. The following practices need to be taught and don’t just come naturally to your little one:
- not running away in public
- not running out into a parking lot
- stranger danger
- staying close to mom or dad
- being cautious when crossing streets
- holding hands when in public or outside
- sun safety: applying sunscreen, wearing hats
- not touching items that are off-limits in the house (outlets, glass, chemicals etc.)
4. Manners and respect for others
Understanding how to properly treat others is a valuable trait to instill in your child. This goes for respecting both adults and other children. It’s important to teach your children how to use polite words and actions to show manners.
At this age, they are starting to test their boundaries and explore new ways of getting what they want. Instill rules for respecting others even through times of frustration.
- Saying excuse me when needing someone to move or get their attention
- Patiently waiting for a parent to finish talking to another parent before chiming in
- Saying please and thank you shows consideration and appreciation
- Making eye contact when speaking to others
- Apologizing when you do something wrong
- Ask questions to others about how their day is or how they are feeling
- Compliment others on their clothes, hair, or something they did
- Share their toys or items that belong to them
- No pushing, hitting, biting, or pulling hair to hurt others in any way
5. Teaching empathy for other’s feelings
Babies and toddlers are very ego-centric, meaning they only think of themselves. Showing them emotions early on teaches them that others have feelings too.
You can exaggerate your emotions-pretend crying and rubbing your eyes when you’re upset or showing over-excitement when you’re happy- so they can try to figure out what to do to change those emotions.
From a young age, you want to fill your child with compassion and empathy for others. Teach them about emotions and to be conscious of other people’s feelings.
- If they see someone crying, ask what’s wrong.
- If they see someone alone, go over and play with them.
- If they see someone that looks different than them, treat them equally.
- If they hurt someone, apologize and make it better
It’s also never too early to talk to your children about race, ethnicity, disabilities, and recognizing differences between others. Here are some great books for toddlers that are simple to understand when talking about racial diversity and equality.
6. Teaching Patience and Waiting Your Turn
This is a great technique I learned on Instagram from an OT Playing with Chanel. I taught it to my 14-month-old daughter and within a couple of days, she was initiating it by herself without me even asking.
When your toddler wants something, most of the time they will fuss, reach, grab, or wave their hands wildly until they get it. The waiting hands technique teaches them to keep their hands down and wait until you are ready to give it to them- and it really works!!
When your toddler is reaching for something he wants, say ”waiting hands”, take his hands and place one over the other, count to 5 while still holding his hands down, and then immediately give it to him once he lifts his hands up. Do this consistently whenever he is asking for something or wants something, whether it be his milk cup, your phone, a toy, or cheerios.
Once he gets the concept of it, you can reduce the counting to 3 or just say waiting hands and not have to count. Soon, he should just put his hands down on his own when you say waiting hands and wait until you give him the object.
Related Post: Simple Things You Should Be Doing With Your 1 Year Old
7. Cleaning up after themselves
We’re picking up after our kids ALL DAY LONG. Why not get them to help out a little? I know you may think they are too young to help you and understand the concept of cleaning, but they do!
As early as 8 months, babies love to put objects into containers. Why not get them to use this skill for a purpose and have them put their toys back into the bins they belong in?
This is actually something my daughter picked up right away without me even teaching her, but just by watching mommy! She has seen me clean up after her spills and messes and wants to imitate and copy everything I do.
Initially, she picked up a paper towel and started wiping the floor and I realized she was copying my actions. Now, if she has a spill (usually her milk cup or food), I just give her a paper towel and say clean up, and she gets down and wipes up the mess she made.
We also tell her to clean up when she’s done playing, and she copies me as we put her toys away in their bins and books away on their shelves.
We also sing the Clean Up Barney song because putting anything to a song is super motivating for my toddler!
8. Saying Yes instead of No
We try to reinforce positive behaviors with my daughter instead of punishing negative ones. I like to praise her for things that she should be doing, rather than constantly saying no and telling her what she shouldn’t be doing.
I like to use the word yes more often than no.
Of course, toddlers think they have free reign of everything and everywhere and do need to be told no once in a while. So when we do, we say ‘no thank you’ instead of just yelling no.
If she does say no, we will redirect her and form the question or command into something that will be more likely to get a yes response. For example, if we say, Go put your shoes on and she says no, we can change the phrase to, Do you want to go outside? Once she says yes, then say So get your shoes on.
9. Acting appropriately in public and understanding “no”
Toddlers are very ego-centric (only care about themselves). It’s totally normal for them to only think about how things will affect them. This almost always leads to inappropriate behaviors as they learn what behaviors get them what they want.
Don’t always give in to every cry and teach them that sometimes they can’t get everything that they want. Don’t always give them the cookie that they’re begging for or the new toy at the store. If they must get the object that they desire, make them earn it.
Teach your one or two-year-old how to act appropriately to avoid tantrums in public. Try putting rules in place when you are out so they know what is expected of them. Always have a way to redirect or distract them when you see a tantrum starting (using something else they are interested in). Lastly, just avoid situations that could set them off.
A toddler’s little mind isn’t fully equipped to learn how to share yet because they are very ME-focused. They are only concerned with making themselves happy and satisfying their own needs.
Teaching sharing early on is important so that your 1 year old can learn how to respect others and how to be a good friend and citizen.
Practice with your child to share their toys and their food, whether it be to you, a sibling, a pet, or another child. They won’t like it at first, but they will soon get the concept of sharing if you keep practicing.
11. Staying on task
A toddler has a very limited attention span (unless of course, they’re watching their favorite television show). It’s only reasonable to ask them to focus on a task for around 4-6 minutes at this age. However, it is important for them to be aware that once they start a task they should finish it to completion. My daughter loves to grab a puzzle and put together 3 pieces and walk away or sit down and read 2 pages and then walk away.
The goal of teaching your child to stay on task is to complete what they start. Here are some tips:
- While playing with your child, make sure that they complete the entire activity, ie. puzzle or read through the whole book, before they get up and run around.
- If they’re coloring or building a tower, keep them engaged in that one activity for as long as possible before you let them move on to the next.
- During mealtimes make sure they remain seated and finish their meal before getting up and playing.
- Make sure they clean up one activity before moving on to the next
12. Being Active is Good!
Instilling a love of being active and exercising early in your child’s life will be beneficial as they get older.
Make sure your toddler gets at least one hour of physical activity per day, and get outside as much as possible.
Ride bikes together, play ball, climb, take walks, swing, and be active. Explain to your toddler why being active is so good for our bodies.
Make sure you set an example as well – yes really! It will help your mood as well, but remember, what you teach your toddler now can last a lifetime. We want our kids to be healthy and active.
5 Books to Help Teach Your Toddler Good Habits
It’s no secret that I love books, and when my oldest started hitting – eek! – I went on the search for books to help develop good habits for toddlers.
I found some great options. We read these all the time with our kids, and they enjoy them.
1. No Biting by Karen Katz
Biting is a no-no, and this book talks about what kids can and cannot bite. Can you bite mom? No way! Can you bite an apple? Yes!
It’s simple with colorful pictures and humor. Toddlers will love this book, and you’ll be able to use it for multiple kids.
2. I Can Share! by Karen Katz
Karen Katz created another amazing book about good habits for toddlers – I Can Share! This sweet book talks about why you need to share and why sharing is a good thing.
3. Brush, Brush, Brush by Alice Padron
Use this book to talk about why we need to brush our teeth! The book uses little rhymes to teach our toddlers about brushing teeth.
4. Germs Are Not for Sharing by Elizabeth Verdick
Teach your toddler why washing hands is so important with this adorable book. It doesn’t talk about what germs are but rather the basics of not spreading them. This book is great for toddlers and preschoolers.
5. Please and Thank You Book by Richard Scarry
Who doesn’t love Richard Scarry books? The Please and Thank You Book follow the characters as they learn the importance of manners and how to behave, along with basic safety rules.
These techniques have all been working for us to start my toddler with good habits. Do you have any other ideas that you use to enforce these or other good behaviors? Check out 14 Lessons to Teach Your Toddler for more ideas.