A Beginner’s Guide to Manners: At the Dinner Table
We all want to raise our children to be polite, well-mannered and behaved. Having good manners begins at home and needs to be taught. We’ve all seen those kids acting crazy, running amok and not listening to their parents, and have often been on the receiving end of that behavior. It’s not a pretty sight. Kids are not born knowing proper behavior for varying situations; they need to be taught and have the opportunity to practice them again and again and again. The best place is to practice it at home and can begin at a very young age! Kids as young as one can be taught to say please and thank you and as they grow can learn more and more.
One of the places kids need the most practice is at the dinner table. Knowing how to act in a socially acceptable way at a table is an invaluable life skill. Who amongst us wants to go out to eat dinner with a friend that’s spitting food into a napkin and putting their feet on the table??! Not us! We don’t want our kids to grow into these kind of adults so we need to teach them at home when they are young. Allowing your children to have plenty of practice at home in a safe environment helps to set them up for success in future situations such as in the lunchroom, eating at a friend’s house, in a restaurant, at a business meeting and, dare we say, future dates.
This will be the first in a series of posts that deal with teaching manners to your kids in different situations. Each situation is unique but all have the same key important “rules”:
1. Start Early
Have you ever tried to learn something new as an adult? It’s hard. It’s MUCH easier to learn as a kid. If we are taught something when we are young and have many opportunities to practice, these skills become ingrained into our lives. Kids are never too young to learn manners and as soon as they can eat table food, should be taught the basics of proper table manners.
2. Start simple and build up
Begin with the basics. Kids as young as one can be taught basic manners and as they grow, both developmentally and physically, can be expected to go further with them.
3. Give LOTS of opportunities to practice!
At every meal, you should be clear about what you expect good table behavior to look like and allow them many opportunities to practice. Who can learn a new language with just one class or book? You need practice – a lot of it! These real world practice sessions will help prepare your child to have proper manners in other situations outside of the home.
4. Set a good example
Kids learn from seeing, not just what they are told to do. We all know the expression do as I say not as I do. Well, that’s not easy for a kid. They are watching you. Every day. All of the time. It’s important to mind your own manners so that your children will see you as a model and want to follow your lead.
5. Correct politely and know you will not have results over night
Manners are not learned overnight. If your child forgets a rule and acts inappropriately at the table, remind them of what you expect and allow them another chance to right their wrong. It can take months to learn a new habit, even longer if you are trying to correct an old habit! Remember this when your children are learning.
Table manners are a great way to introduce your child to the proper way to behave. It’s fairly easy too since we are already eating 3 meals with them anyways! These manners definitely vary by age so know that a three year old will have different expectations than an eight year old. The key is to start simple and build your way up to more advanced expectations. Here are ten simple manners that you can start working with your little ones very early on. Explain what you expect and model these behaviors between mom and dad or an older sibling. Allow them the chance to practice and give them plenty of positive reinforcement when they do a great job!
- Come to the table with clean hands and a clean face
- Place your napkin on your lap (and use that napkin and not their shirt!)
- Eat when everyone is seated (we know this is easier said than done, especially with very young ones but it’s a good one to work on as they grow)
- No elbows on the table (focus on sitting up straight and not layyyying all over the place)
- Chew with your mouth closed
- Say “please pass the ___” instead of reaching over to try and grab something they can’t quite reach
- If offered something new, try at least one bite. It’s ok not to like something but it’s not ok to say “ewwwwwww!” very loud OR to spit food out of your mouth.
- Ask to be excused from the table
- Help clear your dishes when you are done (good for older kids, but littles can help carry a few things too)
- Be sure to thank the chef for your meal! (usually mom or dad)
By instilling some simple manners when your child is young, you will be well on your way to raising well-mannered, happy kids that you don’t mind taking out to eat every once and a while. Remember that learning these takes time and that every family has their own way of doing things. Use this list as a guide to make it fit for what works best for you!
Looking for a neat way of keeping track of your kids good manners? Check out this responsibility chart from Melissa and Doug. It’s a fun way to reward good behavior!
Have a little boy at home? You don’t want to miss this post on how to raise a gentleman; it’s a must read!
Photo Credits: Our Three Peas
Michelle; full time mama, part time blogger, wife extraordinaire. This busy mama to three “peas” is a lover of all things running, crafting and baking. A New England native and current desert dweller, she is the brains and wit behind the blog Our Three Peas, where she writes about the hilarious reality that is motherhood. She strives to live a green and natural life and swears that most motherhood-related dramas can be solved by having a nice glass of wine at the end of the evening.