I distinctly remember all the times (as a child) that my poor mom had to remind me of things like “chew with your mouth shut” or “keep your elbows off the table” during mealtimes.
I also distinctly remember thinking that she must have some sort of weird compulsion that made her feel the need to correct me all the time and why couldn’t I just eat like a hangry wolf and not have everyone bugging me?
And then… I became a parent myself and just getting my kids to eat at the table took an act of Congress.
Teaching young kids to behave at the table can be a trying experience for everyone involved. Your little one is frustrated because she doesn’t understand why using cutlery is important. You’re upset because she continues to ruin her adorable toddler dresses with her sloppy eating habits. The dinner table seems to have become a nightly battlefield rather than a place of important life lessons.
Don’t worry, we’ve all been there before. Teaching young kids basic meal-time etiquette often requires a significant amount of time and patience. But we promise that the effort you put in now will pay dividends later. Read on for everything you need to know about teaching table manners to young kids.
How Young Is Too Young to Teach Table Manners?
There is no specific age recommendation for teaching table manners. However, most experts will agree that it’s never too early to start. Once your baby is old enough to use a high chair, you can give her a regular spot at the dinner table and let her participate in family meal-time.
No matter what your child’s age, just remember to set reasonable expectations. For example, teaching your toddler to not throw food at the table is completely doable. Trying to get him to sit still at the table for longer than 15 minutes is not.
What Table Manners Should You Teach?
It all depends on the family. Some families will focus their lessons on how to eat their food and hold silverware, while other families emphasize communication and respect at the table.
Table manners can also be different across cultures. In the United States, here are some common table manners that young kids should know.
- Put your napkin in your lap. When your child sits down, he or she should unfold their napkin and place it across their lap. This will help keep their pants covered in case they accidentally spill something.
- Wash your hands before dinner. Show your kids how to wash their hands before dinner, especially if they’re helping you make the meal. Washing up before dinner can help prevent the spread of germs and keep your kids from getting sick.
- Look presentable. Looking sharp at dinner is a sign of respect. Of course, it’s up to you to decide what “presentable” looks like. But for most youngsters, clean clothes and a freshly washed face is a good start.
- Say please and thank you. If your child doesn’t say please and thank you at home, they’re not saying it away from home either. Getting them in the habit of saying please and thank you at home is critical to teaching them kindness and respect.
- Avoid reaching across the table. When kids reach across the table, it almost inevitably results in a spilled drink or an elbow in someone’s plate. To avoid entirely preventable spills, gently remind your kids to ask their neighbor at the table to pass them whatever they need. This is also a good opportunity to practice saying please and thank you.
- Ask to be excused from the table. When your child is done eating, they should always ask permission to leave. The dinner table isn’t a place where they can come and go as they please. If your kids are well past the potty training stage, teach them how to wait for a break in conversation before they ask if they can go to the bathroom.
- Clean up after yourself. It’s considered polite to take your plate to the dishwasher or sink after you’re finished eating. Your toddler may be too young to take his plate to the sink, but he can help you gently wash plates. Yes, it will take you longer to do the dishes this way, but you’ll be rewarded in the future with an older child who has brag-worthy table manners.
Tips for Teaching Table Etiquette to Young Kids
Meal-time can be a major challenge for parents, especially for those with toddlers. If teaching your child table manners has turned into a giant power struggle, here are some tips to make things go more smoothly:
- Introduce concepts one at a time. Go slowly when introducing dinner table rules, especially with the little ones. Focus on reinforcing that lesson again and again.
- Make it fun. Use positive reinforcement to teach your child table manners. Consider awarding your child points or gold stars for succeeding in doing something correctly (i.e., holding his fork correctly).
- Model good behavior. You can’t expect your child to stop reaching across the table if you do it yourself. To encourage good table manners and healthy eating habits, make sure that you’re setting a good example.
- Stick to a schedule. Kids thrive off routine. Try your best to eat meals at the same time every day. Help them transition from play-time to meal-time with a handwashing routine.
Making Family Meal-Time Special
Your kids won’t pick up good table manners overnight. For your lessons to sink in, you’ll likely need to remind them again and again. Be patient and you’ll reap the rewards when your older child impresses everyone with their respectable table manners.
**DISCLOSURE: This post is a sponsored post from Gerber Children’s Wear. Views expressed are purely my own**