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How to Teach Table Manners for Children

All kids can learn to behave well at the table. Learn about the basic table manners for children and how to teach them so your child is a pleasant addition to mealtime.

Don’t you just love it when a child or teen says please, or thank you?

Especially without prompting?

Your child isn’t born with manners. He develops good manners and table etiquette over time and with the guidance and leadership you provide.

Like all manners for kids, your child also learns from the example you set with your own manners.

My husband and I worked hard to help our children learn how to behave and be polite at the table. At times, it seemed like our kids needed constant reminders to say the simplest “please,” “thank you,” or “no, thank you.”

And one day, it started happening on its own, without our prompting or reminding.

Miraculous!

Recently, we were at a restaurant having a family meal together and the server said, “May I take your order?”

Each one of my children started their meal request with, “May I please have…”

I don’t tell you this to brag, but I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t feel a swell of pride when I heard them.

After all, we’re raising adults, and we need to teach kids how to operate in the world (nicely), as well as in our own home. Learn the benefits of teaching table manners for children and some mealtime rules to help you get started.

How to Help Children Develop Table Manners

What Are the Benefits of Table Manners for Kids?

Teaching simple manners helps children manage themselves while sending the message that they are capable human beings—an important developmental milestone for all children.

Observing good manners prepares your child to be a patient, confident, capable adult who can function in a variety of social situations. Being polite is never offensive and nearly everyone appreciates being treated with respect.

Poor table manners can negatively affect your child when they’re older.

Proper etiquette is a matter of character, according to an article in Forbes magazine. It’s essential if you want your child to succeed in business. And, a disadvantage to those young adults who haven’t mastered them yet.

Yes, an interview luncheon with bad manners can tank your child’s potential for a job position.

Now I know for many of you that is way off in the future, but the preparation for navigating key social situations with good manners begins now.

Mealtime Rules to Help Teach Kids Table Manners

A child’s table manners reflect his age, maturity, and parenting.

While age and maturity come with time and practice, teaching table manners is something you can do every time you sit together for meals.

Learning manners doesn’t need to be an oppressive or negative experience for children.

Quite the contrary.

Mealtimes should be pleasant, supportive, and engaging. Family-style mealtime is the perfect environment to get started.

Here are a few simple rules to practice basic table manners.

Turn off the devices.

Eat at the table with the television off.

Not only is watching television while eating meals poor dining etiquette for kids, studies show that watching television while eating may increase the amount of food your child eats, especially of high-fat and high-sugar foods like pizza, fried food, savory snacks, “junk food” and sweet foods.

Avoid answering the phone during a meal. I recommend not allowing any cell phones at the table.

Use polite requests and refusals.

Children should learn how to ask for food and to refuse it politely.

You can teach your child to verbalize their preferences with words like please, thank you, and no thank you. We taught our children at a very young age to lead with “May I please have…” and “No thank you (with a smile).” Now, as teenagers, they still use “May I please have…” when we go out to restaurants and even at home.

To me, these are basic, easy words that give kids the tools to navigate mealtimes no matter where they are.

Chew with the mouth closed.

Chewing with the mouth closed will be a challenging task for a very young child. It may take a few years for your child to master chewing and moving food around in his or her mouth with his lips sealed. Be patient while nudging your child toward the goal of chewing with his mouth closed.

Do not talk with food in the mouth.

This is an extension of the above mealtime manner. You and I know it’s no fun to converse with someone who has food falling out of their mouth while they speak.

{Yes, I’ve met some adults who haven’t mastered this simple eating manner—don’t let your child become one of them.}

Simply ask that they chew up their food before talking. And wait politely for them to do so.

Stay at the table until excused.

There is value in teaching your child to wait for others to finish eating. Of course, you’ll need to be realistic about how long your child sits at the table waiting for others to finish.

Little ones can’t sit for a 30-minute meal, nor should they be made to.

If your child finishes eating before everyone at the table, have him sit for a few minutes out of respect. Engage him in conversation and excuse him after a reasonable period of time. When he’s older, have him sit at the table until the other diners are done eating.

Use a napkin.

It’s natural to want to wipe your child’s face if he is getting messy, but this is an easy task to teach. Your child may need some hands-on instruction, and some gentle reminders at the table, but in time, your child will learn how to wipe his own mouth and keep his fingers and hands clean.

Pass food around the table.

Family-style feeding allows everyone at the table to serve themselves by taking their food from the main serving platters at the table.

Around the age of 5, children can pass platters and bowls of food to the person sitting next to them. When our kids were little, my husband and I situated ourselves strategically between the younger children so that we could help them, while our older children handled passing food on their own.

Eat meals at home.

What better place to rehearse manners than in your own home?

My advice to all families: Have family meals at home as often as possible. The more your child eats with others at the dinner table, the more opportunity there is to learn and polish good manners.

When you regularly sit together for meals, it’s so much easier to teach your child table manners. Alternatively, when your child doesn’t observe adults eat, converse and navigate the meal, he misses out on seeing table manners and etiquette in action.

Do what you can: Try to hit 3-5 family meals each week, but if that’s not possible, one family meal per week is better than none!

Tip

Consider starting the meal with a blessing or prayer to reinforce showing appreciation and to set the tone for the meal. Keeping a positive attitude and reasonable expectations around table manners, conversation, and interactions among your family members will create a mealtime environment in which your child wants to be a part.

Help set the table.

Ask your children to help set the table. Kids can learn where they should place utensils, bread plates and glasses while learning to value the time and effort it takes to prepare for a meal.

Check out this simple way to teach your child where to place the bread plate and glass around the plate.

How to teach children table manners: Here's where the bread and glass go around the plate.

Make sure the bread plate is on the left of the plate and drinks are to the right.

What Does Emily Post Say About Table Etiquette for Kids?

According to Emily Post, there are a few good table manners for children to know and practice.

  1. Come to the table with clean hands and face.
  2. Put your napkin on your lap.
  3. Start eating when everyone else does—or when given the okay to start.
  4. Stay seated and sit up straight.
  5. Keep elbows (and other body parts!) off the table while eating.
  6. Chew with your mouth closed and don’t talk until you’ve swallowed.
  7. Don’t make bad comments about the food.
  8. Say “Please pass the…” instead of reaching.
  9. Chat with everyone at the table.
  10. Don’t make rude noises like burping or slurping.
  11. Ask to be excused when finished.
  12. Thank your host or whoever prepared the meal.
  13. Offer to help clear the table.

Grab the Table Manners for Kids Printable!

Post this on your refrigerator or somewhere central in the kitchen and help your kiddos practice their table etiquette.

Table manners for kids printable

Basic table manners for kids are not only for special occasions at fancy restaurants, formal dinners, or holiday meals.

Manners are a skill that needs to be learned and practiced like anything else. If your child practices manners often at home, they’ll take those tools with them out into the world and into adulthood.

Remember, your child is watching you and he models your behavior. 

If you place importance on practicing good table manners, chances are your child will too.

What manners do you think children should have at the meal table?

How do you teach table manners?

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