I have a 19mo daughter who spends ~30hrs/week with a nanny. She "teaches" her to say "please" by forcing her to say it and withholding a wanted item until she does. And forces a "thank you" afterward. I feel like this does less teaching and more just creating a mimic. I feel like manners is best taught by modeling, but I recognize this is a very passive method.

Is there a more interactive way to teach politeness and manners without forcing it?

EDIT: What about saying you're sorry? I'm a firm believer that forcing a child to say they are sorry after hitting another kid or taking a toy or whatever just won't work in teaching them to feel true remorse for their actions.

  • 2
    I suggest a new question for the second half (about saying sorry) since actual remorse is somewhat different than routine manners (please/thanks) -- both are interesting and deserve full treatment! :)
    – Acire
    Commented Aug 19, 2015 at 16:04
  • I don't entirely disagree, but I find it interesting that you make the distinction that way. I would like to think that when I say "Please" and "Thank you", those words are accompanied by actual feelings also...
    – Joe
    Commented Aug 19, 2015 at 16:45
  • Exactly! Those feelings are what I'm trying to teach my daughter. I want her to understand what it means to request something by saying please. And to be genuinely grateful when you receive something. And to feel genuine remorse when you do/say something that might hurt someone else. Commented Aug 19, 2015 at 16:55
  • @Joe Good point. Perhaps "can I teach a toddler how to feel the emotion intended by manners" (e.g. respect, gratitude, remorse) -- which isn't really the sense I was getting from this question before editing, and why I suggested separating the two concepts.
    – Acire
    Commented Aug 19, 2015 at 16:55

2 Answers 2


With social niceties like 'Please' and 'Thank You', teaching them is often a combination of training and understanding. Both should be used together, in order to be most effective. This is similar to learning arithmetic: you should learn why 2+2=4, but you also at some point need to memorize the basic sums in order to use them efficiently and progress to higher levels.

Teaching your child why is crucial, in particular to him/her meaning it; reminding your child that you are doing him/her a favor, and that using polite language makes you more happy about doing that favor. I would never skip this step, and it should be first - and always part of the training, too. I agree with Erik's methods, and that largely mimics ours: when our sons don't use please, we remind them that they should because it makes us feel better about helping them.

Training, though, is also important. As long as it's backed by understanding, repetition has value. It's very easy to know you should do something; it's much harder to remember to do so. Brushing your teeth is much easier as a habit than remembering every day 'I don't want cavities/bad breath'. Same for Please/Thank You, especially for a small child. Getting him/her in the habit of saying it, via training, will help make it more likely that your child uses the words on a consistent basis.

  • Thank you for your insightful answer. Please see an edit on my original post as I wanted to add to my question and wonder if you have something to offer. Commented Aug 19, 2015 at 15:56
  • I don't think the answer is any different for 'I'm sorry', except insomuch as you are more directly teaching empathy there. Still, you are doing two things: reinforcing why one says the social nicety (apologizing) and training the child to do so. In the case of "I'm Sorry", it also has the additional effect of possibly helping the child return to being in control.
    – Joe
    Commented Aug 19, 2015 at 16:01
  • I like that you point out the difference between understanding and training. The reality is that until older ages - sometimes much older - kids just will not understand the 'why' to many things we teach them. The original poster will get a great chance to learn this as this child ages. Mine are 10/7/5 and I have to relearn this (frustratingly so) over and again.
    – Adam Heeg
    Commented Aug 19, 2015 at 17:38

The best way might be to show why people are polite to one another. It's mostly because we are more likely to respond favorably to people who are nice to us.

My daughter sometimes has a tendency to just shout "Water!" when she is thirsty, which we almost always respond to with "can you ask nicely?". If she does, we give her water immediately. If she doesn't, we often say "I'm busy, I'll get it later".

Whether she's polite or not, we will give her water. But how fast and how nicely do depend on the way she asks.

I think this is also how it will be for the rest of her life, you don't have to be nice but it helps people make an effort.

And of course, always lead by example. Make sure you are always polite to others and point out to your daughter how that behaviour helps. It's especially visible when you see other people being impolite and see how they are treated differently from you (ie in stores and restaurants).

  • Thank you for your insightful answer. Please see an edit on my original post as I wanted to add to my question and wonder if you have something to offer Commented Aug 19, 2015 at 15:56

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .