Teaching young children table manners

Teaching Children Table Manners without Going Crazy

Teaching children table manners without going crazy is possible with a little patience, planning, patience, a strategy, and patience.  Patience is required because most kids will balk when faced with a new challenge and will probably challenge you in the process.

Teaching Children Table Manners – at 4 Months???

You may have seen this in a previous blog post, since I’ve used it a few times to show how early we can teach a child something new. When the question comes up about when to start teaching children table manners I usually tell this story about my granddaughter, Nicole.

When she was 4 months old my daughter began feeding her cereal. Of course she created a mess. After a few days of seeing cereal everywhere, my son-in-law asked if he could try feeding her. He placed her in an infant seat on the kitchen counter. To clarify, he made two changes; first he held both of her hands in her lap with his left hand, and fed her with his right. Second, he held the spoon front and center and fed her only when she faced forward. When I heard about this, my first thought was, “how cruel!”

When I saw her a few weeks later, I was surprised at how well she ate her cereal.  When placed in her infant seat, bib on, she placed both her hands in her lap, all by herself.  And, when she was ready for a mouthful of food, she moved her head to the center where the spoon was waiting.  If she spit out or threw the food, a finger was gently placed on her lips and she was told ‘no.’

Some might think this is harsh, but remember that this ‘training’ was done with love, gentle reminders, and lots of patience and praise.

Teaching Children Table Manners as Early as Possible

I can’t stress enough the importance of teaching children table manners and dining skills as early as possible. Allowing habits or behaviors to form that aren’t exactly what you want your child to be doing just make it harder to correct later.

Babies: Of course we all think that babies are cute. But what happens when that cute baby becomes an out-of-control person we don’t recognize? Eating is often a time when that hidden person emerges. And, why is this usually happening when you want to make the best impression on family or friends?

Toddlers:  A toddler learning to use utensils can be fun to watch. Certainly, fingers are much faster and easier. But at some point, they need to begin learning more ‘grown up’ ways of eating. Many people think that two is too early to be worried about how their child eats. But I think you can try any new skill when your child shows an interest. After all, most kids want to do grown-up things and please the grown-ups in their lives.

PreK-School Age:  By the time children start school, they should be able to sit quietly with the family at a table for meals. They should be prepared for eating breakfast or lunch at school as well. We are all aware of the toll that bully is taking on our children today. The school cafeteria is one more place where kids are being teased, picked on or excluded for their lack of good table manners. So we need to equip them with the table manners and dining skills they need to avoid this negative treatment.

The 4 Steps to Training a Child

1.Training – Training is no more than teaching your child the skill you want them to learn.
2. Guidance – Guidance is your helping them master the skill, and modeling it for them.
3. Discipline – Discipline is the hard part. This is the correction that will be needed throughout the learning process.
4. Encouragement – Encouragement and praise go hand in hand to keep the child focused on this new behavior.

Author Disclaimer

In writing this blog, I realized that there is much more information to include than there is space for in one blog. So I’m continuing in the next blog with much more content on the three age groups mentioned above; babies, toddlers, and Pre-K- school age kids. In the meantime, I want you to have some practical steps you can take to begin this process of teaching children table manners. Incorporate the 4 steps above, as you use the content below from our award-winning laminated placemats; fun table manners training.

Polite and Right – Rude and Crude

Sometimes the easiest way to teach a child table manners is to have fun materials that they can play with that will remind them of what to do and not do. We have an extensive lesson on Table Manners in our elementary curriculum [Cool Kind Kid Social Skills, Character Values, and Anti-Bullying Curriculum, Elementary School Edition]. https://coolkindkid.com/curricula

When developing this table manners lesson, we thought a learning placemat could be beneficial in helping kids see not only the correct table manners or dining skills, but how to set the table properly. We actually created two different placemats. First , we created a placemat for preschool children with easy-to-follow drawings for setting the table. Second, we created a more extensive one for elementary age kids. This one has the place setting drawings, but also has text around the edges offering tips for good or acceptable table manners, or Polite and Right, or bad or unacceptable table manners, which we call Rude and Crude.

Both these placemats are in black and white with high quality lamination so kids can color them over and over with washable markers. The Polite and Right side of both show the correct place setting, which teaches a child where the utensils go. Likewise, the Rude and Crude side of both show the crazy, mixed up or incorrect place setting.

On the elementary placemat the text has Table Manners Do’s on the Polite and Right side, and Table Manners Don’ts on the Rude and Crude side. I’ve included the text on both sides of this placemat here, with the do’s and don’ts, so you can go over them with your kids. Add your own do’s and don’ts if you think of more. In addition, you can also make an art project out of this by helping your kids create their own placemats.

Do You Live in the Rude and Crude World?
Reaches across the table
Talks on cell phone
Chews with mouth full
Plays with food
Rocks the chair
Grosses others out
Talks with mouth full
Plays with devices
Elbows on the table
Says, “Yuk! I don’t like that!”

Do You Live in the Polite and Right World?
“May I be excused?”
Passes left to right
“Please pass the________”
“Thank you”
No digital devices at table
Sips soup quietly
Raises utensils to mouth
Washes hands first
Take small bites (able to chew with mouth closed)
Napkin in lat
Helps clean up
Participates in conversation
Compliments the cook
Sits up straight
Elbows off the table

You can see the Cool Kind Kid Laminated Placemats here:

We have developed a fun game to do with your kids or students based on the content of this elementary placemat. Send us your email address through info@coolkindkid.com and we will send you a pdf copy.


To sum up, much research has been published on this subject. Here are some additional tips that you may find helpful in teaching your young children table manners.

© Barbara Gilmour












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