How to Teach Your Child Table Manners

Posted on: 29.07.2015.

Author: Ana G

''Eating soup. With a spoon.'' by Leonid Mamchenkov is licensed under CC BY 2.0

There are many lessons regarding behavior and proper conduct that every parent needs to instill in their children as they grow up. One of the most basic, nonetheless socially important, lessons is teaching the child proper table manners. This can range from teaching a preschool child to eat with the proper utensil, issues concerning electronics at the table with teens, to toddlers being fussy during mealtime.

Such basic social skills as table manners will carry them through the rest of their lives. Regardless of whether the setting is a social gathering, school lunchroom, restaurant, or board meeting, good table behavior and proper manners deliver a powerful impression to others in attendance. It also makes the dining experiences with young children less stressful for parents.

Table manners are essential for more than just using the correct fork or knife. Great table lessons include:

  • Having an appropriate overall behavior
  • Demonstrating good conversation skills
  • Showing kindness to others
  • Using proper etiquette (saying "please" and "thank you")
  • Having a proper eating technique (using utensils, not chewing with your mouth open and other)

All of these small dining lessons translate into much larger actions that carry over well after you finish the dinner dishes.

Consider the Age of the Child

''Sofiya eating'' by Phalinn Ooi is licensed under CC BY 2.0

As every parent knows, all children have their own attitudes, learning abilities, and willingness to do what is expected of them. Each individual child will have their own way of learning, and some younger children will have to be reminded of the rules. However, there are some commonly recognized actions that coincide with specific ages of a child. These include:

Infants

Children are quick learners and can learn something even from this stage of their development. When a parent feeding an infant is diligent about wiping the face of the child, they are indeed instilling the pattern of keeping the face clean while eating.

Toddlers

Patience is the key in the wrangling of these energetic tykes. Constant reminding and monitoring are necessary at this age. Positive reinforcement and quick meals will help with toddler's fussiness at the table. This is also the perfect time to teach and reinforce using the phrases "Please" and "Thank You".

Preschoolers

At this age, children should be taught the proper use of cups, plates and utensils. Parents should be aware that this is usually the time when children start showing their picky eating habits. Colorful animal paper plates or other themed dinnerware may prove to be a valuable distraction when dealing with these little tykes.

Grade Schoolers

Children at this stage of development should be following the basic rules of table behavior. This includes no tech gadgets and no hats at the table. Some children are ready for activities, such as setting or clearing the table, helping with dishes, or other dinner chores. This teaches them about the responsibility of preparing for and cleaning up after the meal.

Older Children

After your years of training and being a shining example, teens should not have to be told to adjust their behavior. However, in this age of technology, it may be difficult to get them to put their mobile phones and tablet devices away. Arguments may be diffused by placing everyone's gadgets in another room.

Practice at Home

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As with any lesson or achievement, practice is a must. The best time to practice with your child is at home, to ensure no other diners will be disturbed. You can work on different areas, and teach your child the proper use of utensils and good conversation skills. The more ingrained these behaviors become, the more likely that the behavior will become second nature.

Choose the Right Destination

Restaurants that are accustomed to serving children are best for first-time or early public dinners. They supply covered drinking glasses, coloring pages, and crayons for the entertainment of young children. The menu usually contains quick cook meals to limit waiting time and to prevent children from becoming fussy. These types of restaurants offer high-chairs and booster seats for the comfort and safety of little diners.

Teach the Basic Table Manners

Consistency and repetition are very important when teaching children proper manners and politeness. Parents need to have patience and persistence with children until these responses become a good habit that is engrained in the child's behavior. These practices can be introduced to children at age appropriate stages and adjusted as they grow and develop new abilities.

Washing Up Before the Meal

Stress the importance of appearance for dinnertime. This includes coming to the table with a clean face, hands and clothing. This grooming action translates into respect and good personal hygiene for the children. 

''Messy'' by Jim Champion is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Lending a Helping Hand

It is important that children are willing to help out others with social (even if it is just your immediate family) obligations such as dinner. This will teach them to be aware of other's needs and to respect the work that is done for them by others. 

Sitting Properly at the Table

Fidgeting, sitting sideways and standing on the chair should be discouraged in younger children. Older children may need to be reminded not to lean on the back legs of the chair, to keep their elbows off the table (until after the group is done eating) and not to slouch or hunch over their plate.

Placing the Napkin

Proper use of a napkin includes lessons such as: keeping it on the lap when not in use, using it only for the mouth and not for blowing noses, placing it back on the lap and not on the table or plate after the use, and placing it on the chair when leaving the table for any reason. 

When to Begin Eating

To reinforce the family or group ethics of mealtime, it is important to teach children to wait for permission to start eating. Lessons should instruct that the meal does not start until all diners are present and everyone has food served on their plates. Common courtesy includes thanking the host for the meal and allowing them to be served and start eating first. 

''chapagetti'' by Joseph Choi is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Eating Politely

Lessons learned from instructions to eat slowly, take small bites and savor the food are life lessons that will contribute to a healthy style of eating for the child's lifetime. Younger children often act silly and discouragement may be needed for issues concerning stuffing too much food in the mouth at one time, talking while eating, slurping, burping and exhibiting other types of inappropriate behavior.

Interacting with Others

Mealtime is an opportune time to teach kids the proper conversation skills. This includes getting kids to open up and share any news they might have, talk about their friends, share their experiences from school or discuss any other interesting subject. This practice teaches kids good social skills, such as: answering adults' questions cheerfully, keeping an eye contact with others at the table, speaking without interrupting someone else and choosing appropriate conversational topics

Being Polite and Respectful

This is good practice for family or large gatherings where it is necessary to interact with other diners to attain food that is out of reach. These lessons include not reaching over other diners to get the food, using "please" and "thank you" when addressing other diners and asking the person closest to the item politely for the item to be passed to you.

Being Familiar with Utensils

Young children will achieve a sense of self-worth when they use utensils while eating. Grade school children should know the proper placement of utensils on the table, in which order to use them and what they are used for. Children who are younger may need to be reminded not to wave their utensils around and not to throw other items. Older children should learn to place the knife on plate edge and leave the cutlery in the center of the plate when the meal is over. 

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Maintaining a Positive Attitude

Learning this lesson involves setting clear rules about the expectations of the child. It is necessary to explain to them that they are not required to eat everything, but they must at least try the dishes served. Explain that rude comments are hurtful to the preparer and criticism or complaining is not welcomed. Instruct them to maintain a positive attitude as they sample the dishes. "Thank you" should be said when the food is served regardless of whether they think they will like it or not. 

Not Using Technology at the Table

Allowing children to be distracted by electronics or television takes away from the family connection and bonding that occurs during mealtime. Explain that electronic devices, such as mobile phones, tablets, or music players are not to be used at the table. This should be a set rule that every member of the family follows. 

Being Polite after Finishing the Meal

Asking to be excused, disposing of their own dishes and offering to help clean up are all basic lessons of etiquette that a child should learn. Final lessons for leaving the table include pushing their chair to the table.

Thanking the Host

Thanking your host or whoever prepared the meal and expressing your appreciation is always a sign of good table manners, regardless of the dining situation. It is a small action that speaks volumes to the chef and shows your appreciation for the time invested in preparing the meal for you.

''Thank You! White Chocolate Feast for Kids May 04, 20101-13'' by Steven Depolo is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Be Patient

It is important to be patient when teaching children table manners. The best practice is to focus on teaching one manner at a time so your child doesn't become overwhelmed and confused. Any potential issues should be handled in a calm manner, by gently correcting the child's mistakes instead of embarrassing or yelling at the child in order to correct problems. Through practice and constant positive reinforcement, good table manners will become a second-nature to your child.

Set a Great Example

Children learn from imitating their closest influences, which are their parents and siblings. If parents and older children have proper table manners, the younger children will have an easier time to learn and follow the rules. Continue to practice proper manners and the children will follow your example. 

Eating is an activity that we all engage in every day and often in the company of family, friends or co-workers. Having proper table manners is essential to the social development and comfort of growing children.

These manners learned at home from a young age will assure that your child will be able to handle any type of dining situation without the fear of embarrassment.

In the end, teaching children proper table manners is a gift that will serve them well throughout their lives.