Have Fun Teaching Your Kids Table Manners

Once your child begins the transition from high chair to sitting at the family table, it’s time to begin teaching the basics of table manners. It takes a little thought, but by starting early and reinforcing manners daily, kids soon develop the habit of good manners. As they get older, you will be confident in your child’s behavior when sending them to a friend’s house for dinner or whenever you eat out as a family.

Independence begins at home

While it may seem basic, teaching good table manners to very young children is a first step to them becoming independent people. A child who is confident about how to behave in social situations will become an adult who is confident in social situations. All it takes are some basic lessons and daily reinforcement at home.

With the very youngest children (3-4), give them age appropriate table ware - plastic dishes, child sized silverware, etc. However, by the time your child hits four, switch to the same dishes the rest of the family is using. Teach your youngsters to use a real glass. Let them use china plates if that is what the rest of the family has. It’s a sign of trust on your part and it’s a signal to be careful to the kids.

If something does accidentally get broken, have the child help you clean it up and move on. At the very next meal, give the child a new china plate or glass glass. Let him know you understand the broken dish was an accident and that adults sometimes break things too.

The importance of family meals

By the time you no longer have to sit and spoon-feed your child, it is important to start trying to eat meals together as a family as often as possible. Set the table for each meal and teach your child how to set a table as well. Help the kids make large construction paper placemats for each member of the family with spaces labeled for plate, napkin, fork, spoon, knife, glass, and bowl. Have the placemats laminated so you can reuse them.

When you sit down together for a meal make it a habit to turn the television off, put phones and tablets away and pay attention to one another instead. Show your child how to put a napkin in his lap as soon as he sits down. Teaching manners does not have to feel like sitting in a classroom. Have some simple rules and gently remind the child throughout family meals about them.

  • Napkins belong in your lap
  • Chew with your mouth closed
  • Don’t talk with food in your mouth
  • Wait your turn to talk
  • Say please and thank you if you need something
  • Sit up straight with elbows off the table
  • When you are done eating say “May I please be excused?” before leaving the table

Make it fun

Every now and then, make breakfast or dinner a big deal. Use your good china and a table cloth. Put flowers and candles on the table. Kids will remember these meals and they will learn how to get through a more formal meal without wreaking havoc on the table or your nerves. These meals are a good time to add new foods to your meal rotation. Teach the kids about taking a “polite bite.” Explain that if they don’t like the new food they do not have to spit it all over the place, shriek, make faces or compare the new food to anything nasty -- instead teach them to say, “I don’t care for this,” and to eat the rest of the food on their plate.

If you have a leftover night in your house, have the kids help you make menus of the choices. Let one of the children pretend he’s a waiter and have him take everyone’s orders for dinner.

Meals should be a time to relax and connect as a family. Employing some of these tips early on will ensure that you will enjoy future meals. As they get older, your children will have an appreciation for meals, nice things and family.

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