Table Manners to Teach Kids

Since children learn many things from observation, you should be very careful when and how you teach them about table manners. Even during their formative years, when they seem too young to grasp these details, table manners must be part of their routine.

Discover which manners are essential for your children to know and learn how to teach them in a simple, accessible way.

1. Washing Up

Everyone knows that kids will touch and try to eat everything they can, from dirt and grass to sand and plastic beads. Teach them that when it comes time to eat real food, they must wash their hands and faces before coming to the table. Cleanliness and presentation are important parts of every meal.

Wash your hands with them to demonstrate the correct way to do it and show them that everyone follows the same rules.

2. Waiting for Everyone

It’s only polite to wait for everyone to sit down before you start eating, and kids need to learn this skill early on. It can be challenging for them to control themselves, but showing them the importance of waiting for others is a skill that carries over into their regular life as well.

Sit with them and wait together to ensure they understand this skill.

3. Using Napkins

Help your kids keep their faces, hands, and clothing clean when you encourage them to use a napkin throughout the meal. As they grow up, you can move the napkin from a bib placement to their lap and, finally, place it beside their plate.

4. Playing or Picking at Food

Some kids can be picky and leave certain foods untouched, often playing with the leftovers during and after the meal. Stress the importance of politeness to prevent them from grabbing food from other people’s plates, or making a mess when they’re done eating.

5. Talking with a Full Mouth

Children can get very excited about sharing stories and participating in conversations, but talking with a full mouth is a habit you don’t want them to pick up. Encourage them to finish chewing before speaking up.

6. Passing Plates

Many times, you’ll set a family-style table with entrees and sides organized in the center. Even though they may not be able to actually reach for something, children will stand up and grab what they want. During these moments, remind them to ask for help or request that someone pass them the serving bowls and platters with the food they want.

7. Keeping Communal Bowls Clean

Kids eat a ton of finger foods that are fun and easy to dip. Unfortunately, they usually share these foods with others from communal saucers and plates. Teach your children not to contaminate shared plates, placing just what they want with a clean utensil onto their own plate.

8. Elbows off the Table

Whether it’s elbows, foreheads, or chins, you might see your child resting all sorts of body parts on the table. Discourage this behavior by showing them how to sit properly. If they’re bored, engage them in conversation or ask them to help with serving to prevent them from experimenting with odd sitting positions.

9. Using the Magic Words

Just because they’re young doesn’t mean your kids shouldn’t already know how to say please and thank you. If they already know how to talk, these phrases are essential to ingrain into their vocabulary. Demonstrating by using these words yourself is the best way to get them to use them as well.

10. Helping the Host

You want your kids to make a good impression when visiting friends and family by helping set up and clean the table. Those habits start at home. So even during your regular dinner routine, encourage your child to set the table and take their plate to the sink when they’re done.

Start Teaching Them Now

Basic manners are a matter of repetition and practice for anyone, especially children. So, you’ll want to start teaching them appropriate table manners as early as possible. Most kids can start learning and remembering these skills at around 18 months.

The sooner you teach them the essentials, the easier it will be to have a pleasant meal at home, a restaurant, or at a family gathering. In addition to incorporating these skills into their table manners, many are transferable to the rest of their life, such as waiting for others, using gracious words, and helping with setup and clean up.

While your children may not learn as quickly as you might want them to, patiently working with them over time will help them improve. Mistakes are allowed as long as your child learns and grows from them.


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