Manners are essential in my book. When you teach table manners to your child they will be accepted and praised everywhere they go. Helping kids learn to stay seated and refrain from throwing cut-up grapes all over the table is an skill that is looked for in preschool classrooms. With practice your kids will learn to wait their turn, to have their juice boxes opened, and will even say please (mostly) without being prompted.
Kids sometime have trouble sitting for an entire dinner and a little manners refresher course is necessary before a big, long holiday meal like Thanksgiving. These are the 6 essential rules to teach table manners to your kids.
1. Temper Your Expectations
It really is a lot to expect little kids to sit still for longer than 15-20 minutes at a time. Be patient with your kids and understand exactly what they’ll be capable of. The kids’ table is great for older kids who can eat without being prompted and entertain each other, but for toddlers and preschoolers it’s better to seat them beside you for mid-meal course correction.
2. Set Expectations for Your Kids
Kids really benefit from lots of advance prep. Like all people we do best when we know what’s required of us. If you’re preparing for a big family gathering like Thanksgiving talk about the meal and what the rules are starting a week or two before. Use family dinnertime to teach table manners beforehand. Practice sitting still, using a napkin, asking for things politely, refusing food without loud shouts, using utensils just for food, and whatever manners you know Grandma will appreciate. Remind them gently when they bend or break the rules and offer lots of positive feedback. If you have picky eaters, use this time to talk up the menu as well, so they’ll be excited about. You can call food chicken if it helps. We eat a lot of “chicken-pork” and “chicken-fish” at my house.
3. Practice A Lot
Practicing manners, even if it’s just during your Saturday morning dress-up tea party, is the best way to instill good habits. Practice makes perfect and teaching table manners is no exception.
4. Write Down the Rules
When you teach table manners you’re teaching behavior. Writing the rules down makes them important and easier to remember. Make a colorful poster with illustrations or magazine cutouts for a strong visual reminder of mealtime manners. Some mom ninjas I know are able to point to their rule sheets and correct their children without saying a single word. Let your kid help decorate the poster so it’s a fun project and the act of creation may even cement the lessons faster.
5. Use Small Portions for New Food
For the big holiday gatherings we may pile food on our own plate higher than usual. Giving your preschooler large portions will only overwhelm them. Start with their favorites and offer small bites of unfamiliar dishes.
6. Plan After Meal Distractions
If it’s inappropriate to let kids leave the table plan a small craft like a sticker sheet or coloring place mats to keep their minds and hands occupied. Small blocks, dolls, puzzles or lacing sheets also work well. We highly recommend against bringing out any digital devices. This is a habit that’s hard to break once it’s started. Kids need to learn to entertain themselves with what’s around them.
These 6 rules are the best way to teach table manners to your child for dinnertime at home or a big family holiday meal.