It can be hard enough to get a meal prepared, all of the kids to the table, and everyone to eat what is on their plates without having to worry about table manners as well. In fact, many days it will seem that table manners are just an extra anxiety and, after all, your kids are eating at home so it doesn’t really matter anyway.
But your kids won’t always eat at home! Soon they’ll be eating snacks and lunches at school, you’ll want to take the family out for nice treats and you’ll go on a holiday that requires eating all meals in public. Encouraging good table manners now will help alleviate tensions and even arguments later.
Talking About Table Manners
Talking to your kids about table manners is an important part of getting children excited about good manners, not to mention you can’t expect children to do something they don’t even know about yet:
- Sit your kids down at a time when they are not hungry or tired and let them know that they are now old enough for the great honour of practising good table manners
- Explain that babies and toddlers aren’t old enough yet to handle this task, but that you know they can be successful.
- Explain that good table manners means using cutlery correctly, placing a serviette in the lap, speaking at an appropriate volume and without food in the mouth, complimenting the meal and keeping complaints to themselves.
- Also remind them that good table manners mean arriving to the table when called, and not leaving the table before they are excused.
Answer any questions your kids may have, then tell them that you’ll be watching out for good table manners starting at the next meal. Remember of course that it will also be your example they they will follow, so practise what you preach!
Practising Good Table Manners
Start practising good table manners at the first meal after you’ve discussed the subject with your kids. Lay the table properly, or at least serve a meal which requires cutlery and put out serviettes or even real napkins for everyone. When it’s time to eat, check that serviettes/napkins are in laps. Lead by example and don’t spend all of your time reminding children what they should and should not be doing, but correct children who do not show good table manners at a meal.
At the end of each meal praise children for what they did correctly and let them know what they’ll need to work on the next time. Don’t single anyone out, just let them know that as a group that more needs to be done about speaking with an indoor voice or more quietly discussing the vegetables they do not like, for example.
Tracking Table Manners Progress
Set up a method of tracking table manners from the first meal. Many parents find a points system or sticker/star chart useful to show children how well they are doing. Try to focus on the positives and improvements children make with each meal rather than if they’ve taken a few steps backwards or misbehaved.
Use an ultimate reward, such as a meal out or a dinner at Granny’s to show off their new table manners, as a goal to work towards. If possible, make this tracking system applicable for the children as a group rather than each child individually. Not only will children be able to work together towards a common goal but table manners won’t become a competition with hurt feelings or petty jealousy.
Encouraging good table manners is an important part of socialising children and keeping peace at meal times. Explain to your children what is expected of them, lead by example, gently correct mistakes and track progress for the group as a whole. It may take longer than you would like, but soon enough good table manners will become the norm rather than the exception in your home.