Teaching Kids Good Table Manners

Family Enjoying Meal At Home
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Whether you’re eating at home, dining out, or having dinner with friends, good table manners for kids are an important part of every meal. When you teach your child good table manners, you are giving them important tools for social interaction that will serve them for the rest of their lives.

Laying the groundwork for good etiquette at the dinner table means your children will more likely become pleasant dinner companions for family meals in the years to come. And you'll feel comfortable allowing them to have a meal at a friend or relative's house, knowing they have good table manners.

Table Manners for Little Kids

When it comes to instilling table manners, it's never too early to start teaching kids the basics. In fact, every meal can serve as an opportunity for them to learn how to exercise proper etiquette. From using their utensils properly to waiting until everyone has been served, little kids can learn how to be respectful and practice table manners.

Just remember to keep your instruction casual and avoid getting too stressed. Learning what is expected at the dinner table is a long process and not something that kids will master right away. So, be patient but consistent in your instruction and eventually your kids will get the hang of things. Here are some things you can begin to teach kids who are 5 and younger.

  • Come to the table with hands and face clean. Teach children to wash up before dinner. Not only does this show respect for the person who prepared the meal as well as others at the dinner table, but it is also an important healthy hygiene habit.
  • Wait until everyone is served before eating. Teach your child that they should not begin eating until everyone is seated and served. Starting to eat before everyone has been seated is disrespectful. Dinner is meant to be enjoyed together.
  • Chew with your mouth closed. Chewing with your mouth closed and not talking when your mouth is full are two cardinal rules of good table manners. Gently remind your child that they should chew with their mouth closed.
  • Avoid stuffing your mouth. Teach your child to take small bites and never wolf down their food. One way they can practice this habit is to put their fork down between bites. They can even put their hands in their lap while they chew.
  • Remember your manners. Remind kids to say please and thank you. In other words, if they ask for seconds or for someone to pass something they should follow the request with "please." They also should say thank you to the person who prepared the meal, as well as thank those who serve them or pass them things.
  • Use utensils and napkins. Kids should be discouraged from eating with their fingers, especially if they have moved beyond finger foods. Show them how to hold their fork properly and teach them to place a napkin in their lap. They also should avoid wiping their hands on their clothes or wiping their mouth with their sleeve.
  • Refrain from criticizing the food. In preschool, teachers often tell kids: "don't yuck another person's yum." That said, kids should not be forced to eat something they don't want. It's OK if they say "no thank you." While you can ask that they try new foods, don't force them to clean their plates.

Table Manners for Bigger Kids

Once kids are 6 years old and older, they can begin to learn the basics of table etiquette including offering to help with dinner and where they place their napkin when they get up from the table. Of course, they should still be practicing the things that they learned when they were younger like not chewing with their mouth open and washing up before dinner.

They key is that you don't stop there. There is still much to learn about how to be polite and respectful at the table whether at home, at a friend's, or in a restaurant. Here are some things you can teach your bigger kids about table manners.

  • Offer to help. Whether at home or someone else’s house, encourage your kids to always ask the grown-up if they can help do anything to get ready for dinner.
  • Watch the host to see when you should unfold your napkin. Let your kids know that when the host puts their napkin on their lap, that’s the signal for them to put their napkin on their lap.
  • Avoid interrupting when someone else is talking. At the dinner table, practice having your child wait their turn to speak when talking about their day or another subject. Get kids into the habit of talking about news, their friends, how school was, and other interesting subjects.
  • Ask someone to pass items to you instead of reaching. Remind your child never to reach across the table to get something. Create the habit of asking other people at the table to pass something they need.
  • Put the napkin on the chair, not the table. Teach your child that they should always put their napkin on the chair if they briefly leave the table. A used napkin should never go on their plate or the table.
  • Ask to be excused. While it's better if your child remains at the table until everyone has finished, it's also acceptable to ask for permission to be excused if they have finished and the adults are lingering and talking. Sitting for a long time at a dinner table can be challenging for some kids.
  • Push your chair in when finished. When your child gets up from the table, they should push their chair back against the table.
  • Pick up your plate. Clearing their plate is an important habit to get your child into at home because if it becomes a part of their routine and they will be more likely to do it when they are a guest in someone else’s home.
  • Avoid using electronics at the table. While most parents make this a rule at home, it's especially important when they are at a friend's home or eating out with friends. Remind them that it's disrespectful to be on their devices at the table. They should focus on the people they're eating with rather than what is happening on their screens.

A Word From Verywell

Teaching good table manners is an important part of family meal time that will help your child have confidence in social situations and when dining out. Just make sure you take a low-pressure approach to instructing your kids. You don't want mealtime to be fraught with stress and anxiety.

Instead, remind your kids that good table manners, like good manners in general, are about being respectful and showing gratitude for a meal. They also are not just reserved for social situations or public places—they are important at home too. So, be sure you're working with your kids to fine-tune their dinner etiquette on a daily basis. With practice and consistency, the skills you're hoping to instill will soon become second nature.

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