The key to teaching good etiquette in children is early training and gentle, constant correction on things like ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’ But toddlers are a law unto themselves. And if toddlers wrote their own etiquette book, here are the top 20 rules they might include in it.
1. A sleeping adult must be woken at any time of the night for whatever reason, even if it’s just to tell them that your blanket is scratchy.
2. If you need to go to the toilet, proclaim your intention loudly and tell everyone around you what you are planning to do once you get in there. This is particularly essential if you are in a quiet place like the library, bank or Medicare.
3. Early mornings are for loud noises, squealing and banging things. It is also a good time to fire up that talking chair thing that you got for Christmas; the one that sings banal songs about shapes and numbers in a really annoying perky voice. Turn it up and press the same button over and over again.
4. New foods must be approached with caution. Your mother is likely to want to poison you and so if she offers you something green that she claims is ‘good for you’ do not let it pass your lips under any circumstances.
5. When someone new comes to your house you must always show them everything that is in your bedroom. If they won’t come into your bedroom, bring out all your most banal stuff – including the bottle cap you found in the garden that morning – and put it all in their lap while they are trying to talk to Mum. You may or may not explain each item, sometimes just bringing it out randomly and dumping it on the floor in front of the visitor will suffice.
6. If the phone rings, pick it up and don’t say anything. Just breathe heavily into the mouth piece for about five minutes then drop the phone and walk away.
7. The rule is the same for speaking on the phone to adult friends and relatives: don’t say anything, just breathe heavily into the mouthpiece for five minutes, drop the phone and walk away without explanation. And to be clear, don’t hang up, just leave the line open so that you can hear a confused, disembodied voice saying: “Hello? Hello?”
8. Staying seated at the dinner table is optional. You can and should wander around the house with your food; go into the bathroom if necessary, share some with the dog, leave some in your room for later.
9. If you eat something you don’t like, spit it into the hand of the nearest adult.
10. If you need to throw up, make sure you throw up somewhere on your mother’s person. If she isn’t nearby, seek her out so that you can achieve this.
11. Pants are optional, rain, hail or shine.
12. Shoes are also optional, especially when getting into the car to go on a long road trip when your mother has not packed a second pair. If she’s taken the precaution of putting some on your feet, wait until she is not looking and take them off before getting into the car. That way, when you reach a destination five hours up the coast, you can say, “I haven’t got any shoes!” and ruin everyone’s holiday.
13. Once you have grasped the meaning and power of the word ‘no’ you must say it a lot.
14. All of the TV remote controls must always be concealed somewhere where adults will not find them. This is a difficult task for modern toddlers as there are sometimes up to four or five remotes to conceal. It’s busy work but someone has to do it.
15. When Mum is on the phone, you must get her attention and focus it back onto you. If you can’t get her attention, it is imperative that you start making a lot of noise by banging something. If that fails, fall over and bump your head on something.
16. Sneezes and coughs are to be spread around to everyone, make them as wet and sloppy as possible.
17. Always speak the truth, especially when it comes to Nanna Jude’s chin hairs or Uncle Pete’s man boobs. Ask lots of questions about them in a very loud voice and point if necessary. When all the adults pretend they can’t hear you, persist until you get answers.
18. If Mum or Dad is on the toilet, just barge in and start talking to them. Don’t knock and once you have gained entry, refuse to leave until they have concluded their business. Ask a lot of questions and if you have time, sing a song apropos of nothing.
19. The supermarket checkout line is the ideal place for a tantrum, a sudden urge to go to the toilet or (if still in nappies) an intense ‘brace and push’ session while you do a number two.
20. When you are being buckled into your car seat employ ‘the stiffy manoeuvre’ so that the seat belt cannot be clicked together around your body. This is especially important if you are running late and have to be somewhere. Full disclosure: this may result in Mum employing ‘the karate chop’ manoeuvre on your middle section in order to get your body to bend into the seat.