Establishing table manners for children mean I love dinner time. Almost every evening my children and I sit and enjoy each other’s company. It has not always been this way. We are not eating as if we are at Buckingham Palace, rather we are treating each other with respect and as a team. Here we talk about why manners are not old-fashioned, but rather the basis of social skills and mobility.
Children are well known for their no-filter, impulsive nature that can often lead to embarrassing moments that parents laugh over when looking back. This free, childish trait is one of the challenges when parents try to teach basic table manners. But it’s a job that must be done to prepare them for life. For me, table manners for children are not about ‘performing’ but allowing meal times to be a relaxed and happy time. Table manners for children can be hard to understand; a hungry child can take more food without meaning to be rude, reach for something across the table, or stand up after a bite or two and hurry out to play. Getting your child to curb their impulses and apply restraint is a process that requires patience and consistency.
Remember to start with basic table manners and keep things casual to avoid getting stressed out. Teaching table manners to children can help them pay attention to their food for increased satisfaction. It can also help them avoid germs and illnesses, contribute to dinner conversations, and enable them to sit still so you can eat as a family. Table manners are also a good way to stop your child from overeating and having a healthy relationship of food.
22 Table Manners to Teach Children
Every meal is an opportunity for your child to learn something about table manners. Below are table manners to teach. As always, modeling is an essential teaching tool. If you are grabbing food while walking around, it is hard to tell them to stay sat down. Introducing all 20 at once would be impossible, so scaffolding starts with the main ones and then introduces more. Not all of these are for every meal. On Sunday, we eat more formally than other days, and pizza with fingers in front of a movie is a fantastic event.
- Help them remember to wash their hands and keep their face clean before mealtimes.
- Offer to help lay the table.
- Keep devices and toys away from the table.
- Teach your child to wait for everyone to be seated and served before they can dig in.
- Use the service spoon to dish from a common bowl.
- Offer to serve other people before themselves.
- Say “please” when asking someone to pass something and “thank you” when they do.
- Hold utensils properly.
- Refuse food with a polite “I’m fine. Thank you.”
- Expressing thanks for the meal.
- Never insult food that’s prepared and offered to them.
- Take manageable bites of food.
- Chew with their mouth closed.
- Avoid inappropriate noises like slurping and burping.
- Avoid playing with their food.
- Not talking with their mouths full as others can see the food in their mouth.
- Never interrupt when someone is speaking.
- Engage with everyone at the dinner table, not just mom and dad.
- Only food stays on the table. Feet and elbows stay off the table.
- Remain at the table until everyone is finished and then ask to be excused.
- Clear their plate and also offer to clear that of others near them.
- Push their chair in when they get up from the table.
How Can I Teach My Child Table Manners?
According to Dennis Cornell, an expert on business protocol based in Los Angeles, not learning proper table manners puts young people at a disadvantage in the career world. This is because mastery of appropriate table manners reveals one’s character and competence. Parents should introduce children to table manners as early as possible. Find out how to teach your child below.
- Choose your priorities. These can not be ‘taught’ in one go. When your child is starting school, they need to be able to do the fundamentals. But slowly add to them over time.
- Show by example. As above, you are your child’s best role model.
- Tell stories. Younger children like a good story. Incorporating lessons on dining table manners into stories can help your child listen and remember easily. Let’s say you want to get your child to remove their cap at the dining table. You could tell the story of knights in medieval times who removed their helmets at the table so people could know if they were friend or foe.
- Play a game. There are games that you can adapt and use to teach your child table manners. A game of I Spy is a good example. The game helps you and your child point out when someone isn’t using proper table manners. Either you or your child can say, “I spy someone talking with their mouths full.”
- Keep a checklist. Not something I would do. However, keeping a checklist involves making a list of good table manners and placing it somewhere prominent. The kitchen is a great location. Every time your child remembers to use good manners, they earn a check. When the checks add up to a certain point, your child earns the right to choose dinner and dessert for a week.
Final Thoughts on Table Manners for Children
Another aspect of table manners that will be crucial to your child as they grow is conversation-making within the family. Here, your child can learn to listen, interpret nonverbal cues, and learn to steer conversations. Make sure everyone at the table gets a chance to be part of the conversation during mealtimes.