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 mealtime etiquette, you are giving them important tools for social interaction that will serve them for the rest of their lives.

Laying the groundwork can really start when your child begins to speak and use utensils. And as with much of parenting, this will take a while to catch on. What's most important? Keeping things pressure-free and modeling the behaviors you want them to adopt.

Table Manners for Little Kids

Every meal can serve as an opportunity for kids 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.

Be patient but consistent in your instruction and your kids will eventually get the hang of things.

Here are some basic things you can begin to teach kids 5 and under:

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 of this if they forget.

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.

Be Polite

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 and anyone serving them.

Use Utensils and Napkins

With few exceptions, like pizza and hamburgers, kids should be discouraged from eating with their hands—especially if they have moved beyond finger foods. Show them how to hold their fork properly.

In addition, teach them to place a napkin in their lap—and remind them to use that instead of their clothes when wiping their hands or mouth.

Refrain From Criticizing the Food

In preschool, teachers often tell kids: "Don't yuck another person's yum." Acknowledge that it's OK that they don't like something, but remind them that that doesn't mean others agree.

It is also worth explaining to them that they can express gratitude for the food and the work that went into preparing it without actually liking what they were served.

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

With each advancing year, kids will have more control over their movements and behaviors, gain more skills, and develop greater social awareness—all of which can help with table manners.

Once kids are 6 years old and older, you can teach them to:

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.

Don't Bring Along Electronics

Mealtime is not just about eating. It's about connecting with those you are dining with and sharing in an experience. That's hard to do if your child's face is buried in a screen.

Teach them that not only is it disrespectful to bring electronics to the table, but using them there means they are missing out on connection and togetherness.

Take Cues From the Host

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

At the dinner table, practice having your child wait their turn to speak. Get kids into the habit of talking about news, their friends, how school was, and other interesting subjects. Specific prompts can help.

Avoid 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 Their Napkin on the Chair

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.

Tidy Up

Teach your child that they are responsible for the plate they ate off of. Leftovers should be cleared into the trash and their plate, utensils, and cup should be placed in the sink or whatever place you have designated.

When your child gets up from the table, they should push their chair back against the table.

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.

2 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. When and how to wash your hands.

  2. Common Sense Media. Why device-free dinners are a healthy choice.

Additional Reading

By Katherine Lee
Katherine Lee is a parenting writer and a former editor at Parenting and Working Mother magazines.