Start introducing manners lessons slowly to very young children and add more refined lessons as the child matures. Consistency and repetition are very important when teaching children. Parents will have to reinforce the rules time and time again until good practices become habit. Remind children whenever a slip in manners occurs but don't scold or nag.
Practicing good manners daily will eventually lead to mastery and manners will become second nature. As children develop fine motor skills, their use of utensils and glassware will improve. With constant repetition, by the early teen years, kids will have built up a comprehensive collection of manners which parents need only fine-tune for teens to be capable of attending the most formal of occasions.
For the well being of the children, even busy families should find the time to sit down together each evening for a meal. The most simple of meals, including take-out fare, are fine choices. Make sure that the food is transferred and/or served in serving dishes and that the family uses dinnerware. If dinner is impossible on certain evenings, families can sit down later in the evening for dessert; make sure to set the table and use dinnerware and utensils.
Teaching children the proper way to set the table is a perfect start for introducing the use of utensils, plates and glasses. Explain where each utensil is placed, what it is for, when it is used, and the correct way to hold it. Young children love being given a responsibility and will happily and proudly set the table each evening. Put placemats, napkins, silverware, plates, cups and bowls within reach of children to facilitate easy table setting. A good idea in homes with small children is to purchase nice quality melamine dishes so when plates drop they will not break.
Children do not learn proper table manners overnight. It takes years of repetition and consistent training to refine their skills. Parents have eighteen years to help shape their child's table manners so there is plenty of time to patiently work with them. Expect lots of errors and missteps, use gentle guidance, never scold or embarrass, just kindly correct and continue eating.
If parents begin teaching manners when their children are toddlers, by the time the kids are in kindergarten they will have mastery of the basics.
The following is a list of table manners that your child should have a good grasp of by age six.
- Wash their hands and face before sitting down to the table.
- Sit down in their proper seat and put their napkin in their lap.
- Wait to begin eating until everyone is seated and has been served. Many families wait until an adult gives permission to start eating.
- Stay seated in their seats without wiggling in their chairs, going under the table, or getting up and down.
- Say, "Excuse Me," and ask permission to leave the table.
- Elbows do not belong on the table.
- Mouths should stay closed while chewing and pieces should be bite sized.
- "May I please" and "Thank you" should be used when children would like food and never reach across the table.
- Participate in the conversation during dinner and no interruptions when other people are talking.
- Slurping, burping, squealing, singing, humming are all sounds that are not to be made at the table.
- It is never kind or polite to make negative comments about what is being served for dinner.
- Before getting up at the end of the meal say, "May I please be excused?"
- Ask if adults would like them to clear their dinner plate.
- Thank the cook.
Preparing children for adulthood starts the moment the baby is placed in the arms of the mother. Teaching children to use good table manners is a wonderful gift that will serve them well throughout their entire lives. Parents will be proud that their children are using the good manners that they have taught them, and more importantly children will be polished and refined and capable of being comfortable in any situation.