Notable French philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau believed that babies are inherently good – good news, right? But hold on, there’s more. According to Rousseau, babies are inherently good, but it’s up to parents to keep them that way.
Encouraging goodness in children often takes the form of setting limits. Some limits are all-the-time limits, like “no hitting” and “don’t pull plugs out of outlets.” Others, like “indoor voices,” are harder for children to learn, since they depend on the situation. And rules like the house rules of not-often-seen friends and relatives can be the hardest of all.
Teach through role-play
Telling Baby a set of rules verbally is a good place to start. What’s even better is reinforcing what you’ve just said by giving him the chance to practice through role-playing.
Role-playing gives children a concrete script to refer back to about how to act, instead of just asking them to follow the idea of rules that they might not fully understand. For example, you can say “No running on your aunt’s slippery wood floors in socks,” but Baby may not really understand what you mean until you’ve practiced taking careful, deliberate steps with him to practice. Role-playing can also make rules more memorable, and hold your toddler’s attention better than just talking to him.
Carefully explain the reason for each
It can be nearly impossible to get a toddler to cooperate if he isn’t fully aware of why his behavior should be different from usual. Telling a toddler the reason behind a rule, especially if it hasn’t been sinking in for a while, can help to make the rule more memorable, and may even make him want to follow it more than he has been.
You’re Baby’s first role model – it’s no wonder when he starts to act the way you do – even in ways you don’t mean to teach him. If you make a point to follow the rules you’ve asked Baby to follow, it will help reinforce the request.
Toddlers are smart, but they still need guidance in order to become well-mannered guests – and for a while, Baby’s manners as a houseguest are going to be a work in progress.