Table manners are probably the most important manners that children will learn. We all want to have peaceful family dinners, especially when extended family or friends are eating with us. Here are a few tips for teaching table manners to children.
Table manners are about much more than proper eating. Table manners teach life lessons like being kind and considerate. People are also judged on how they appear and how they act.
Start teaching table manners as soon as children are able to sit at the table and eat with you. This can begin as young as 6 months, when you insist that your child sit in her high chair (and not crawl across the table) and tell her not to throw her food.
Manners children should know include:
- waiting until everyone is at the table and ready to eat before they start eating
- asking for food to be passed instead of reaching across the table for it
- not talking with their mouth full
- not interrupting other conversations at the table and waiting for their turn to speak (parents can encourage children to speak up at the table by asking them about their day)
- asking to be excused from the table when they are done eating (whether that is a formal “May I be excused now?” or a simple “Can I go play now?”)
- carrying plates or dishes to the kitchen sink when they are done eating
- not saying things like “yucky” or “gross” about the food, even if they don’t like it
- saying “thank you” when they are done or when someone passes them some food
Set Reasonable Expectations
Do consider what are reasonable expectations for your children. A toddler may not be able to sit through a twenty-minute meal while an older child can. Make sure that everyone starts the meal together, but let younger children go when they are finished eating or getting too ancy. Slowly encourage them to stay longer by asking them about their day (once they are old enough to carry on a conversation) or encouraging them to wait at the table until dessert is served.
Do try to stay consistent in asking your children to practice their manners. It can be tiring to ask a toddler twenty times to say “please” when asking for more bread, but perhaps on the twenty-first request, the toddler will catch on.
Have your children follow the same rules even if they are eating at a restaurant or at a grandparents. Grandma might laugh and say that a child doesn’t have to carry dishes to the sink, but you can say that these are expectations you have for your child at home and you expect them to show good manners wherever they are eating.
If this is an issue, speak to friends or relatives ahead of time to explain that you are trying to teach your children manners and would appreciate if they would support you or smile and praise your children for showing off their manners.
Make Table Manners a Game
One way to encourage good table manners would be to have a special tea party or dinner just for your children (especially if you have a daughter who enjoys playing princess). Look up an etiquette book or website and see what fancy manners you can find that your children would have fun with. Talk about these manners with your children and make it a game; they could dress up and role play while practicing the manners. Later, at the family dinner table, you can remind them about the manners they learned earlier during the game and encourage them to practice those at the dinner table.
Demonstrate Good Manners Yourself
Make sure that you are using the manners that you wish your children to learn. Children learn by watching and listening. If you are using “please” and “thank you,” they will also start using it.