Teaching your little ones to be polite is no small task. From using please and thank you to the napkin on the lap, the uphill battle of getting table manners to become second nature will take some time. Working on dinner etiquette is a big step for them, so a few tips for success is key!
How do kids learn table manners?
Well, it really all boils down to leading by example. Manners sadly don’t come programmed into us, so setting a good example and frequent repetition are needed. Importantly, good manners start in the home even though the media can influence some other behaviour.
Why teach manners?
Before you know it, your little one will be going over to their friend’s houses for dinner and meeting new people to impress. You want to know that they will present themselves well without you there. It might not seem like a big deal to them, but people always appreciate and remember good manners!
Basic manners to teach:
If you’re starting from the ground up, here are a few important ones:
- Saying please and thank you when someone offers something or you ask for something
- Wash your hands before eating
- Once you sit down, put your napkin on your lap
- Keep your elbows off the table
- Always keep your mouth closed when chewing
- Wait to eat until everyone can
- Sit up straight
- Don’t play with your food
- Clean up when finished
- Put your knife and fork together when you are done eating
- Thank whoever made the meal
This may look like a long list but most of these have been ingrained in you throughout your life. It takes baby steps at first to introduce these new practices, but with repetition and time, these will become part of their routine without thinking.
Tips for toddlers
From the ages of 3-5 you can start adding on new habits at the dinner table. By now, they will hopefully be saying please and thank you regularly (even when they least want to!)
1. Set the example
As soon as you sit down, grab the napkin and put it on your lap. Your little one loves to copy your every move, so they will be eager to do what you do. If you make things like this part of the routine before you eat, they will remember and begin to add them to their mental checklists.
2. Be consistent
Sometimes manners are hard to remember for adults too! Do your best to not fray from the actions you want them to make because they are always watching very closely.
3. Give gentle reminders
Even though it may seem never-ending at first, telling them to keep their elbows off the table will start to click after frequent prompts. Feeling a bit like a nag is normal; their behaviour won’t become habitual overnight!
4. Keep mealtimes peaceful
When your frustration begins to boil over it can be easy to overwhelm them with demands like, “elbows off!” or “sit up straight!” This will only make mealtimes stressful and could backtrack progress. Try to slow things down and have them focus on 1 or 2 specific actions they can work on per week.
5. Remind them why they’re doing it
They’ll be wondering why these actions are necessary and they won’t stop asking you. It’s likely they will push back, asking you why these things matter. Take time to explain why manners and making a good impression are important. To make it more simple, explain that being polite makes others happy. You will definitely have to repeat these reasons a lot but eventually, it’ll stick!
6. Make a reward chart
If repetition isn’t cutting it, make it a bit more fun. Use a chart with stickers to mark off each successful mealtime. Once they complete a full week, they can receive a reward. A little incentive can go a long way as you know!