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How to Teach Your Child Table Manners

For many families these days, meals represent some of the only quality family time we can count on.

Teaching your kids proper etiquette at the table can make the difference between a blissful hour of family togetherness, and an all-out prizefight.

With that in mind, here are a few hints for ensuring your family meals provide you with opportunities to connect and communicate, and don’t turn into bouts of head butting and frustration.

  • “What’s in it for me?”

As usual, kids are going to want to know why they should practice good manners. It’s a valid question, and one you should be ready for.

Explain to them that displaying good manners makes other people feel good, and if they learn and practice their etiquette, other people will do the same for them.

Reinforce the fact that good manners will build better relationships and help them make new friends. Try to get them to understand with questions like, “How would you feel if someone grabbed food off your plate?”

Your kids should take pride in themselves for displaying proper etiquette, (So, as I’m sure we’ve all noticed, should many adults.) so don’t be afraid to heap on the praise when they show good manners, and let them know how much people will appreciate it. “Wow! What great manners! Grandma’s going to be so impressed!”

  • Set clear expectations

As adults, we’ve followed the societal rules for eating with others for so long, we tend to forget that they’re not instinctual.

Remember, kids need to learn what is and isn’t considered polite, and it’s your job to let them know, so come up with a clear list of what’s expected and why.

Once you’ve decided what the table rules are, print them off and post them somewhere they can be seen from the table. You might even try a family meeting to discuss what is and isn’t considered good table etiquette and allow your children to weigh in with their opinions.

Plan ahead though. Make sure you can back up your rules with understandable, reasoned explanations. Nothing fails to resonate quite like the, “Because I said so,” or, “Because those are the rules,” arguments.

I don’t recommend offering treats for proper table manners, as they encourage kids to follow the rules only if there’s something tangible in it for them. Instead, praise good manners enthusiastically and consistently, and show clear disapproval when they misbehave.

  • Lead by example

It’s all too easy to fall into the self-centered thinking pattern that excuses our own slip-ups when it comes to table manners, but remember; your kids are watching you!

They’re watching your every move and waiting for that moment when Mom checks her phone or Dad lets out a burp without saying, “excuse me.” It’s their big chance to point out that you break the rules too and “level the playing field,” so to speak.

Of course, nobody’s perfect, so don’t hesitate to admit that you were being rude when they call you on it. Demonstrate ownership of your actions and acknowledge that bad manners are unacceptable for everybody.

As adults, we do occasionally have more pressing issues than our kids, so plan ahead. If you’re expecting an important call during dinner, let them know ahead of time. Don’t give them the opportunity to “catch” you. And, of course, whenever possible, don’t bring your phone to the table.

  • Hang in there

As is the case with all learned skills, manners take time and practice. It’s instinctual for kids to grab things with their fingers, bang on things that make noise, and say whatever crosses their minds.

Overcoming those instincts won’t happen overnight, and just because they’ve been taught otherwise doesn’t mean they won’t slip occasionally and act on impulse.

On the flip side, your instinct might be to get upset because you feel like they’re disobeying you. Be patient and remind yourself that they’re trying to overcome a natural reflex, so a lot of trial and error is needed. Be consistent with your reminders, but try not to be too critical. Calm, persistent, straightforward reminders will get results eventually.

I’ll sign off today with a quote from the defining authority on the subject…

“Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use.”

-Emily Post

Also, if you are are looking for a way to get your toddler to eat new and healthy foods, check out The Food Sense Program! Designed with the help of a nutritionist, it is a simple, comprehensive guide to help your fussy eater develop a better attitude around healthy food!

Learn more here.

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