Manners are best taught over time, by example, and in the moment. Your baby can learn to say PLEASE, THANK YOU, YOU’RE WELCOME, TAKE TURNS, SORRY and SHARE. I know, it’s totally amazing! My son was effectively saying PLEASE and THANK YOU by 17 months of age.
Manners are difficult concepts, but not just to sign, that’s the easy part, it’s the ritual that is difficult for a baby to grasp that will hang them up. Just keep in mind as you go along that this is more of an early introduction to etiquette than the be all and end all on the subject. At first manners are signed as a part of habit. The full idea of manners will become understood as your child becomes more sophisticated and really learns the power that these special words hold. It’s also important that you don’t make a big deal about signing manners, you still want this to be a fun exercise or your baby will just reject the entire affair.
First begin by teaching PLEASE, THANK YOU and YOU’RE WELCOME, as these are the easier of the bunch. When your toddler is begging for something simply model the sign for PLEASE to them and then help them to do the sign before giving into their demands. Whining should always be a signal to you that your toddler needs some help or wants something and that they require assistance with asking properly. Think of whining like a giant exclamation mark that beckons you toward teaching proper communication patterns. Eventually, you’ll discover that your toddler is saying PLEASE and THANK YOU as part of their normal repertoire.
Above: The open palm moves in a circular motion on the chest when doing the ASL sign for PLEASE.
Above: In the ASL sign for THANK YOU and YOU’RE WELCOME the flat hand moves from the mouth outward toward the person being thanked.
PLEASE and THANK YOU can also be done by very young toddlers. My son started doing THANK YOU at 15 months. When we gave him things he wanted, we would just ask him to do the sign for THANK YOU afterwards. Over time this became a habit. Follow up these sequences with YOUR WELCOME and your baby will eventually pick this up too, although since babies rarely do things specifically due to our requests, it will happen a bit later. When it does, it will be a pleasant surprise!
You should also model models for you baby as well. Just ask a family member for something and use an exaggerated PLEASE sign followed by THANK YOU once have your receive it. The more times you couple the words with the signs in various contexts, the faster your baby will pick it up.
If you really insist that your baby be polite have them do the sign for PLEASE each and every time they ask for something followed by THANK YOU once they receive it. In fact, making it a ritual without exception will ensure that it sticks. Of course, this is totally up to you, and every parent is different, some require please and thank you on special occasions, while others require it even more rarely. If you insist that your baby use proper manners all the time, then you should follow along with PLEASE and THANK YOU when making requests or demands with your baby. It’s only fair!
Above: Manners are important and they can be started early. In this video you will see PLEASE, THANK YOU, SHARE and SORRY. At first baby signing manners is just out of habit, but with time, manners will come naturally and be understood. Using a doll can be of assistance in teaching manners, just watch!
Above: In the ASL sign for SORRY the closed fist is moved in a circular motion on the chest.
While we’re on manners I should mention this important point. This advice goes across all signs and all demands equally. Just because your baby has asked nicely using a polite term, does not mean that you must provide your baby with whatever they have asked for. Giving into your baby’s request is entirely up to you. I will add that you should try your best to give into your baby’s requests more often when they have asked nicely than when they do so while kicking or screaming. This, or never give into requests if they aren’t done in an appropriate manner, and never give into requests done through throwing a fit. Otherwise, your toddler will never adopt proper manners.
SORRY, SHARE and TAKE TURNS are advanced signs and will be useful if you have more than one toddler. These must be taught real time as they are applicable. Sit with your young playmates and watch them carefully. Catch squabbles early on and show your children how to properly interact. SORRY is taught in context when you want your baby or toddler to show sorrow for doing something inappropriate such as hitting. Whenever it’s appropriate, simply model the sign for your baby and have them do it toward whomever they have hurt.
SHARING should be taught early on. When you teach the sign, you don’t need to pressure your toddler to give up all their toys. They probably have at least a few special ones that they will like to keep all to themselves. However, sharing is an important life skill and all children should learn to part with their excess to those who are without. Therefore, while playing, have your toddler choose a toy they can give up. Next, do the sign for SHARE while you instruct your toddler to give the toy to away. It’s not enough for you to hand the toy over to another child, it’s best for the toddler to do it themselves. However, if you must, then help them part with the toy. Teach your toddler that toys they aren’t currently using are fair game for others. In the beginning stages, sharing, like saying please and thank you, will be done out of forced ritual, but eventually it will stick and originate from them.
TAKE TURNS and SORRY are also concepts that can be taught in the moment and as the situation warrants it. Just memorize the signs and when you find a teachable moment, strike!
Above: With both hands palm vertical, the index finger slides over top of the opposite index finger with both thumbs pointed upward. Think of evenly dividing something to be shared when doing this ASL sign.