Helping your child understand the best ways to communicate will serve them through every stage of life. Respectful communication, which acknowledges the messages of all the people in the conversation, takes time to learn. To help your child understand what polite and respectful behavior is, consider the tips below.

1) Age Appropriate Connections

Make sure you are making age-appropriate connections with your child. A toddler may appear to be ignoring you if you call to them from behind. Instead, get them to stop moving. Get in front of them, repeat what you want them to do or stop doing, and make sure they both see and hear you.

A young child’s brain has a limited number of items it can focus on. If they’re eating something yummy, they may not hear or understand the instruction not to make ice cream on the sofa. If they’re focusing on a difficult task, they may not hear you instruct them not to climb on the banister. Face-to-face contact is critical for focus in young children. You’re not being ignored; you simply aren’t on their radar if they’re not facing you.

2) Determining Anger or Overwhelm?

A child amid a tantrum may appear extremely disrespectful. However, often a child amid a meltdown is simply overwhelmed and unable to express what they’re experiencing. Instead of adding additional stimuli, such as correcting the behavior or growing angry yourself, give them a safe, quiet space to be.

If your child is not harming others or themselves, they may still be screaming and crying. If possible, remove the child from the space by gently carrying them from the stimulation. They may be angry with you; let them be. They may still be noisy; let them blow off steam. A tantrum that lasts more than 25 minutes is a cause for concern, but most children just need to vent the pent-up energy that comes from not being able to express themselves, not getting what they want when they want it, and not understanding what is going on.

3) Language Beyond “Please” and “Thank You”

Many children who are just learning to talk can form “please” and “thank you”. They may not always know when it is appropriate to learn these terms, but the use of them usually gains a positive response and promotes more use of them in the future.

Related polite words and phrases, such as “no thank you” and “may I?” may take practice. Such practice can easily occur around the dinner table. As possible, try to have electronics-free dinners. Working with someone who has completed their parenting coach certification may make it easier to be aware of such communication practice.

4) Encourage the Use of Titles

It may seem old-fashioned, but consider encouraging your child to use Mr. and Ms. when dealing with adults who are not family. When you call your friend by their first name, you are demonstrating closeness and intimacy that is critical to friendship. If your child uses Mr. or Ms. with that person, they are mentally defining the difference between friendship. This understanding of how to talk to friends can make it easier to socially connect throughout their lives.

A friend of the family may recommend that the child refers to them as Aunt or Uncle. Hopefully, they will use a phrase such as, “Please call me Aunt Sarah or Uncle John,” so the child has the chance to come back with a “thank you” and the new title and first name. Starting with Mr. and Ms. also helps the child understand the difference between first and last names and may keep your child safer if they are on a playdate and wander onto a neighbor’s property.

5) Promote Awareness

As your child ages, work to promote awareness and empathy. If your child is treated disrespectfully at a restaurant or on a shopping trip, it’s a good time to talk about how that felt. What was said or done, and what would have made it better? You can also use this time and these experiences to celebrate respectful behavior used by your child. Finally, you can encourage your child to thank a clerk or water for being especially respectful of them.