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Teaching Table Manners

Is your child a messy eater? Does your grandchild leave a trail of destruction at the dinner table? Do you opt for takeout and drive-thru dinners because the idea of sitting down to eat in public with your little one is just too stressful? You are not alone! Teaching your children dining etiquette will not only make mealtime less stressful but will also give them a sense of accomplishment.

When to start

By the time a child starts eating at the table, they are old enough to begin learning table manners. Start with short and simple lessons such as saying please and thank you and using utensils correctly. Then teach them more complicated dining skills like keeping elbows off the table and chewing with their mouth closed.

Where to start

Like every important social skill, good table manners start at home. Don’t wait until the holidays or special events to teach your little ones the dos and don’ts of dining. View mealtimes at home as an opportunity to practice manners, not just another chore of the day. Prioritize connecting through food as a way for everyone involved (you included) to grow closer together.

How to encourage

Reward your child when they show good manners by praising them when, even if it is a small thing like saying thank you to the server. Explaining the 'why' behind a manner is another way to promote politeness, “We wash our hands before we eat so the germs on our hands don’t make us sick.” Have a conversation before the meal to set expectations. Remind children before a meal about staying seated at the table, using their inside voice, or using their napkin.

What to avoid

The thought of a conversation with another adult and a quiet meal is appealing, but parents who use tablets or cell phones to distract their children while dining are missing an opportunity. Device-free meals give children the chance to form closer relationships. When children spend time around a table and outside their electronic universe they learn patience, conversation skills, and gain healthier eating habits.

When things go wrong

If you are a parent, you know, you are out to dinner and your little sweetie starts making a scene. Despite your best efforts to calm down, the tantrum train going full speed ahead, what should you do? Don’t ignore the situation, when your kid’s behavior impacts others, it’s time to take action. Apologize to those around you and move your little one out of earshot.

If they calm down, go back to your meal. If your attempts to calm them down don’t work, it’s time to box up your dinner and take it to go. If you are a fellow diner and witness a mealtime melee, share a smile instead of a disapproving look.

The most important thing we can do for our children is to equip them to be successful adults. Be a good example by modeling the behavior you want them to exhibit. Offer encouragement and understanding when things don’t go quite right and keep technology off the table to create memorable mealtimes for you and your children.

The Polite Company’s Top Ten Table Manners every Kid (and Parent) Should Know

  1. Come to the table with clean hands and face.

  2. Put your napkin on your lap.

  3. Wait to start eating until everyone is served, or when given the okay to begin.

  4. Stay seated and sit up straight.

  5. Keep your elbows off the table while eating.

  6. Chew with your mouth closed.

  7. Make polite conversation.

  8. Avoid reaching, instead say “Please pass ...

  9. Offer to help set the table or clear the dishes.

  10. Say “thank you” to the cook.


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