Teaching children table manners

Guest post by Sarah Morris on behalf of Primrose: preschools with a well-rounded curriculum and a passion for educating children.

The art of tables manners will always be in fashion and can add great value to the lives of your children if taught properly. Proper manners travel far beyond “please” and “thank you” in that they demonstrate respect for the others around you. By concentrating on table manners, you can teach your children to pay the proper attention and respect that adults and their peers deserve. Of course, one of the best ways to teach good behavior is to model it. Sitting down to a relaxing dinner and modeling proper etiquette will go a long way in the instruction of your children.

1. Begin teaching at an early age. There is no reason to wait until children are older to stress the importance of proper table manners. In fact, the earlier that a child begins instruction, the easier it will be for them to form long lasting patterns that travel with them through life. Children learn by imitation, so even infants can benefit from proper modeling. As soon as a child is able to speak it can learn to say phrases like “thank you” and “please” when appropriate. By age three, children should be able to sit quietly through an entire meal. Praise and constant reinforcement will come in handy during this phase as children thrive under these influences. Children can be a great asset in helping to set the table and an even help a bit with meal preparation. Cutting should begin with plastic cutlery and soft foods, gradually moving up to sharper knives and tougher foods.

2. Target your feedback so it comments on the actual activity they are engaged in. Instead of saying “great job” or “nice work”, a parent can say “I am proud of you for not speaking with your mouth full” or “Good job finishing everything on your plate.”

3. Polite conversation can be modeled by the adults at the table and children will do their best to emulate this behavior. Demonstrate how a conversation flows, how one party speaks and another listens and then asks questions. Save heated debates and talk of such things as politics for meals when there are no children present. This way they will not be subjected to arguments. This is also a good time to discuss what is appropriate and not appropriate to discuss at mealtime.

4. Examine your own behavior. Children will not do as you say if you do not follow your own rules. Be certain to use the best language at all times and remember to stay cool and level-headed if improper behavior arises. Remember that the children are in a continuous process of learning and making mistakes and being gently corrected is how they will learn most quickly.

5. Be consistent as much as possible. Children operate best when they are placed in routine situations. Clear boundaries allow children to know what is expected of them. Speak with your children in advance when eating out, so they will know exactly what behaviors you are looking for. The steps to proper dining, such as what silverware to use can be taught to them as a game of memory. Of course, all children will make mistakes now and again, and these are good opportunities to reinforce their progress and praise what they have done right, rather than concentrate on what is wrong.

Feeling frustrated with your children’s manners? Do the kids in your life need a manners tune up? Consider enrolling your child in our children’s etiquette classes. Get more information here.

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