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How can I get my young child to speak politely?

One thing to remember is that a toddler or preschooler doesn’t really understand what he’s saying, but he’s loving the reaction he’s getting to it. So you want to change the reaction he gets, in order to shape his behavior.

Your child is picking up rude language from lots of sources -- older siblings, daycare, movies -- and has seen that it makes a big impact when he talks that way. So you actually have a couple of ways to tackle the problem.

• First and foremost, reward and praise nice talking. Make it a family rule that “nice talking” gets rewarded, praised and acknowledged. Include both kids in the plan. Make a big deal out of “catching” them speaking nicely. Make up a sticker chart or find another way of rewarding them, whenever they’re doing it.

• Next, try to cut out the “negative talk” input. Talk to your child's daycare provider about instituting the same kind of program at school; rewarding nice language. And cut out the movies and TV he’s watching with that kind of “negative talk”. I know it’s pervasive, but there really is a selection of better shows out there. Make a point of watching what the adults say around them, too.

• And when you’re out and about, make a point about having nice manners. That includes “How We Talk.” Give your child a little speech ahead of time. “Now, when we are in the restaurant, we use our inside voices, and talk nicely. Anyone who “talks mean” has to sit outside with me. Who wants to talk nicely? Who wants to eat inside the restaurant? Who can get sticker points for sitting nicely and talking nicely at dinner?” Then you have to be prepared to set the example for them; if your child goes off on a negative talk tangent, calmly lead him outside and remind him of the rule. “Only boys who talk nicely are allowed to eat in the restaurant. We can sit out here until you can talk nicely.”

It might take awhile for your child to get the hang of it, but if all the adults are on the same page, it should work. 

Charles J. Sophy, MD
Adolescent Medicine

First and foremost, reward and praise nice talking. Make it a family rule that “nice talking” gets rewarded, praised and acknowledged. Make a big deal out of “catching” them speaking nicely. Make up a sticker chart or find another way of rewarding them, whenever they’re doing it.

Next, try to cut out the “negative talk” input. Talk to your child's daycare provider about instituting the same kind of program at school; rewarding nice language. And cut out the movies and TV he’s watching with that kind of “negative talk.” Make a point of watching what the adults say around them, too.

And when you’re out and about, make a point about having nice manners. That includes “How We Talk.” Give your child a little speech ahead of time.

It might take a while for your child to get the hang of it, but if all the adults are on the same page, it should work. 

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.