Teaching Young Children Table Manners while Staying Sane
Teaching young children table manners while staying sane is possible! But it requires a commitment to model, teach, practice, encourage, and praise throughout the process. In fact, I would suggest that one of the first things needed to begin this process is a refresher course on basic table manners.
You don’t want to start teaching your child table manners or dining skills that are now out of fashion. Or, you don’t want to find out later that others are looking at you and your kids like you are crazy. And, you certainly don’t want to be out to dinner with the in-laws and see disapproval on their faces.Though times have changed, the basics remain the same. There are tons of resources available on the Internet. In short, do a little homework before you begin. [Cool Kind Kids’ FUN, Award-Winning, laminated placemats are a great resource. https://coolkindkid.com/more-products/]
Continuing my Previous Blog
My previous blog was entitled Teaching Children Table Manners without Going Crazy. In that blog, I stressed the need to teach children table manners and dining skills as early as possible. There are several reasons for this: First, you don’t want to let your kids eat any way they want. That becomes messy, and can gross others out. Second, allowing bad habits to go unchecked makes it harder to change them later. Third, trying to teach a child a new behavior, when the existing behavior has been allowed, frustrates both you and the child.
In addition, with the bullying climate we have today, we are seeing that the cafeteria is one more area of a school campus where kids are being bullied. You can spare your child some pain or rejection by teaching good table manners early. Give them the skills needed to boost their confidence and enable them to reject bullying.
My intention in that blog was to include much more content than I realized I had room for. Therefore, I’m continuing here with more information to make teaching your children table manners much easier. As in the original blog on this topic, I covered three age ranges: babies, toddlers, and preschool to early school age.
Teaching Table Manners to Babies
If you go back to the previous blog [see above] you can read about my grand- daughter, Nicole, and how she was taught to eat her cereal at age 4 months. Again, I want to stress that starting early table manners training is possible, and you can keep your sanity, with a few simple tips. Read over how my son-in-law trained Nicole to eat her cereal.
Feeding Baby from a Bowl
When feeding your baby encourage small mouthfuls, cleaning up his mouth as you go. Keep the food bowl away so the baby can’t reach for it or play in it. When he begins eating more foods on his own, he can be taught to put only a few pieces into his mouth at a time. [It’s definitely safer.] He can also be taught not to spit the food out. [Remember not to laugh as that encourages more spitting]. And, most importantly, a baby can be taught not to throw the food on the floor, or at you. [Remove the food a few times and watch this behavior stop.]
Introducing the Sippy Cup
When you think your baby is ready for a sippy cup, put a little liquid in it and offer it to him. Show him what to do with it and be patient while he experiments. This cup presents a whole new challenge for a baby. Yes, there will be spills, but you don’t have to allow the cup to be thrown around, or its contents poured on the floor. Teach the proper way; encourage and enforce it. To clarify, by enforcing I mean gentle correction. Remember, he wants to please you.
In the Highchair
Your baby should be able to sit in a high chair or some other contained seat, after learning to sit up. He can be taught to sit with the family while everyone is eating. You can space his meal out, so he has some food in front of him throughout the family meal. If he gets fidgety, offer some small, washable toys to play with.
Dealing with Spills
Accidents will happen. Emphasize the correct way to do the behavior that caused the accident and try again. Patience. Patience. Patience. Even a very young child wants to please you, so heap on the praise and encouragement.
Teaching Table Manners to Toddlers
A toddler learning to use utensils for the first time can be fun to watch. Of course they think that fingers are more fun, faster, and easier. But at some point, they need to begin learning more ‘grown up’ ways of eating. Only you can determine when your child is ready to learn new dining skills. However, I think you can try any new skill when your child shows an interest. You can encourage that interest by showing him how ‘grown-ups’ eat. Since most kids want to learn how to be more ‘grown-up,’ and want to please you, he will probably want to try eating like he sees the adults in his life are eating.
Learning to use Utensils
Present utensils as early as possible. There are many on the market that are designed for little hands. Give your toddler the utensils, and show him how to use them. Until he has the manual dexterity to master them, keep modeling and practicing with him while he is learning this ‘grown-up’ way of eating. Patience and practice, and practice and patience will be needed until he gets the hang of it. Always praise him when he does it correctly.
Drinks without Problems
Present drinks in small size glasses, preferably plastic, and request those when dining out. In addition, restrict the amount of ice that is in a drink to prevent the glass from sweating and becoming slippery, thus harder to hold. When spills happen, and they will, encourage him to help clean up the mess. This is a normal part of the learning process. Let him know that it is okay, and maintain your cool. Encourage him to try again. Eventually, he will master this new skill.
Begin training your children to eat at the table from the time they are able to sit there, either in a chair or a high chair. This is a great time for the family to share their day with one another. Be reminded that all of this involves being aware of your child and when he is ready to learn new things.
Teaching Table Manners to Preschool or Early School Age Children
Kids should be able to sit quietly with the family at a table for meals by the time they go to school. Turn off the TV, put away devices, and avoid other distractions. Starting this habit of eating at a table as early as possible creates good habits that will follow your child throughout life.
Here are some more tips for teaching children good table manners. Chewing with their mouth closed is usually a challenge. Encourage them to take small bites of food so their mouth will fit around them. At this age, they can be taught to not talk until their mouth is empty. If someone asks them a question when their mouth is full, train them to raise a finger, pointing to their mouth, indicating that they will respond when done chewing.
Good Posture at the Table
We have already talked about utensils and introducing them as early as possible. By school age, they should have mastered these, and have the manual dexterity to eat properly. As always, correct and praise. Encourage them to sit up straight and keep their feet in front of them. Food actually digests better with good posture. So many people today are slouching over the table when eating and resting their arms on the table; some even holding their heads up as they eat. This is not good table manners.
Avoiding Bad Habits
Moreover, children this age can be taught to keep the hand they are not eating with in their lap, unless they need to cut something. Another bad habit many fall into is keeping their elbow on the table as they eat, lowering their head to the plate, rather than picking their arm up and raising the utensil to their mouth. This is definitely one of those dining skills that will require proper modeling, then instruction and encouragement.
The Family Meal
The family meal is not a place to air grievances or bring up distressing issues. It should be as peaceful as possible, with everyone having an opportunity to share their day. Not only does this time spent together teach and reinforce important social skills, but it contributes to family closeness and bonding, so sorely needed today. More to come on this topic.
Training for their Future
Keep in mind that you are training your children with skills that will stay with them throughout life. In conclusion, be reminded of all the kids you watched in restaurants who caused you to say, “If I ever have kids, they will never behave like that!” Also, be aware that others are more likely to notice your kids’ misbehavior before they notice their good behavior. But, someday their good behavior will be noticed. When that day happens, you will believe that all the training [frustration], guidance [again and again],
discipline [will they never get it?], and encouragement [I love it when they do it right] are all worth it.
A FUN, Award-Winning Song about Table Manners
This song from the Award-Winning Cool Kind Kid CD is one of the kids’ favorites. It features Dining Disaster Dan having dinner with all of his relatives and how they are pointing out his poor table manners. Use this song to help your kids identify Dan’s bad dining skills. Then ask them to help Dan correct his mistakes so he can learn good table manners.
Dan’s Disastrous Dining Dilemma Track 16
© Barbara Gilmour