We have all seen those children acting crazy, running amok, and not listening to their parents – and we have all been the parent of one of those children at one time or another. It is not a pretty sight. All parents want to raise their children to become polite, well-mannered adults, but they are not born knowing the proper behavior for different situations.
Table manners, for example, need to be taught and practiced again and again and again before we can expect children to consistently act appropriately at the dinner table. Teaching table manners at home allows children to have plenty of practice in a safe environment 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, on future dates.
Table Manners – Start Simple
Teaching table manners is fairly easy since we eat two to three meals a day with our children. Appropriate table manners obviously vary by age – the expectations for a three-year-old should be different than the expectations for an eight-year-old. The key is to start simple and build up to more advanced expectations as children get older. Teach a specific table manner one at a time so young children do not get overwhelmed or confused.
Here are ten simple table manners that you can start working on at home from an early age:
- Come to the table with clean hands.
- Use a napkin rather than a shirtsleeve to wipe your hands and face. Older children can put their napkin in their lap.
- Wait until everyone is seated before eating. (We know this is easier said than done, especially with very young ones, but it is still a good one to work on as they grow.)
- No laying on the table – sit up and keep those elbows, torsos, and faces off the table.
- Chew with your mouth closed.
- Say, “Please pass the ___” instead of reaching over to try and grab something out of reach.
- If offered something new or something you do not particularly like, take a “no thank you portion.” A no thank you portion is when you take a small helping of something – two or three pieces of broccoli, one small spoonful of mashed potatoes – and try at least one bite. It is okay not to like something, but it is not polite to say “eww!” or to spit food out of your mouth.
- Do not make rude noises like burping, and if you happen to do so, say “excuse me.”
- Ask to be excused from the table when you are finished eating.
- Clear your dishes when you are done eating and have been excused. This is a good task for older kids, but little ones can help carry a few things to the sink too.
Every family has their own way of doing things, so use this list as a guide and make it fit for what works best for your family. By instilling some simple table manners when children are young, you will be well on your way to raising well-mannered children.
5 Tips for Teaching Table Manners
Have you ever tried to learn something new as an adult? It can be really hard. It is much easier to learn as a kid. Learning table manners starts at home and can begin at a young age. As soon as children start talking they can be taught to say “please” and “thank you.” As soon as they can eat table food, they can start learning very basic table manners like not throwing food on the ground and not yelling while sitting at the table.
Provide lots of opportunities to practice.
Who can learn a new language with just one class or book? You need practice – and a lot of it! When we are taught something at a young age and have lots of opportunities to practice, these skills become ingrained into our lives. So at every meal, be clear about what you expect good table manners to look like and allow children lots of opportunities to practice. These real-life practice sessions at home will help prepare your child to have proper manners in other situations outside of the home.
Set a good example.
We all know the expression, “Do as I say, not as I do.” Well, that’s not easy for a kid. They are watching. Every day. All of the time. Young children especially learn by seeing, so it is important to mind your own table manners. Your children will see you as a model and can then follow your lead. If you put an emphasis on good table manners, they are likely to follow suit.
Table manners – and any other type of manners for that matter – are not learned overnight. When correcting inappropriate behavior at the table, be polite and use this as a teachable moment to show proper behavior. If your child forgets a rule and acts inappropriately at the table, remind them of what you expect and give them a chance to do it properly. For instance, if your child reaches across your plate for something, you can say, “I am glad you are hungry, but next time remember to ask and I can pass it to you instead.”
It can take months to learn a new habit, even longer if you are trying to correct an old habit! Keep this in mind when your children are learning table manners. They will get there as long as you are consistent. No matter where you are, what you are eating, or who is at the table, everyone should be expected to use their table manners at every meal. One way to help with consistency is to use a responsibility chart. It is a fun way to reward good behavior and helps reminds them of the table manners they should be following.
Even with the best teaching and lots of practice, children forget good behavior when they are tired, hungry, or overwhelmed (think being in a busy restaurant). There will inevitably be times when they will need reminding. Stick with it and pretty soon good table manners will be second nature.
Having proper table manners and knowing how to act in a socially acceptable way at a dinner table is an invaluable life skill. Who wants to go out to dinner with a friend that’s spitting food into a napkin and putting their feet on the table? Not us! We certainly do not want our kids to grow into the kind of adults who would do those sorts of things. The key is to teach table manners at home when they are young. This way you can avoid having to apologize in a restaurant for your adult son spitting out his food on the table and yelling “gross!”
WANT TO READ MORE?
Check out this article on How to Raise a Gentleman