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.
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.
Here are a few habits I have started teaching my children and they’ve picked them up very quickly.
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. 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.)
3. 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
4. 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.
5. 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 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
6. 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!
7. 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 awhile. 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.
8. 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.
10. 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 in 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
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.