Teaching table manners to kids is an important part of family mealtime that will help them thrive in social situations throughout life! Take a low-pressure approach to teaching and modeling manners with these ten focus points.
Kids learn by watching, mimicking, and practicing. Because they’re so good at learning this way, some aspects of growing up may never have to be taught with words or lectures. Like walking!
Manners can also be taught by watching and mimicking parents and peers. But because manners aren’t instinctual like walking, explaining boundaries, appropriate behavior at the table, and rules becomes an important part of learning this life skill! And once they learn, those habits will benefit them in future social situations.
So, buckle up and let’s talk about the things to teach them for proper table manners, and then scroll to the end to get our Dinner Rules Printable!
Top 10 Table Manners to Teach Kids
- Wash hands before coming to the table. Clean hands keep kids healthy! Bottom line. Kids can understand that germs on their hands could get into their bodies if they use those dirty hands for eating. Make this easy for your kids by having a small step stool in the bathroom or by the kitchen sink. This CAN become a habit! I’ve seen kids as young as 2 years old washing their hands before a meal without their parents reminding them, because it was a habit!
- Don’t talk with your mouth full. This must be taught, as I know ADULTS who never learned it! If your bite of food is too big for your mouth to close, the bite was just too big! No one wants to see the food in your mouth while you are eating.
- Say please and thank you. Being polite is especially appropriate at the dinner table! Saying please shows respect to those you are eating with, and saying thank you shows gratitude. Both of these behaviors are getting lost in society and teaching your kids while they are young will certainly pay off.
- Wait to be excused until everyone is (at least mostly) finished eating. Dinner doesn’t have to be long! For fidgety kids, practice staying put for at least the first ten minutes of the meal.
- Put napkin in your lap. I think it’s OK to make a game of this. If you can sit through the meal without your napkin falling off your lap, than you’re a winner! Kids can use the napkin to wipe their hands or their mouths, but while they are young, it can indicate they were able to sit still at the table.
- Take bites in the appropriate size for your mouth. I wish I could say I had more success with this, but it isn’t for a lack of trying! My teenage boys forget this basic rule!
- Avoid using devices at the table (watching TV, tablets, phones, video games, etc). This is not only polite, but respectful to the people at your table. Collect devices before the meal starts. This can become a habit to not even check your phone during your meal. Again, a meal doesn’t need to be longer than 15 minutes, so it’s completely appropriate to expect that amount of time to be device free.
- Express thanks for the meal. This is why I love manners! Kids can be accused of being entitled and spoiled, yet when they simply express thankfulness for a meal, they are humbled and appreciative.
- Clear your plate, and offer to clear others near you. Kindness can be expressed by helping out, and after dinner, everyone should help out. Clearing your plate, or offering to do it helps kids to be a little less selfish.
- Avoid in appropriate noises like burping out loud. I just had to throw this one in here because apparently, this rule needs to be said out loud! Haha!
Table Manners for More Advanced Kids
Get kids ready to eat out, in public! Here’s a quick diagram of a fancy table setting. This is fun to explain at home. Have a fancy meal one night, with ALL the dishes to describe a formal dinner setting. We like to do this at holidays like Valentine’s, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Show the kids which forks to use for what food. The more often you do this with your kids, the more likely the lesson will stick.
Family Meal Time Rules- Teaching Family Culture
While teaching table manners for kids to behave appropriately, sometimes they miss the bigger picture. That’s why we also have what we call Family Meal Time Rules! These are simple, everyday things we like our kids to identify with. It’s not bad manners to not talk about your day, but when it becomes a part of your family culture, kids learn respect, kindness, and politeness! So, these are our family meal time rules:
- Taste one bite of everything
- Say Please and Thank You
- Talk about your day
- Eat your fruits and veggies
- Be thankful for your food
- Everyone helps clean up
- Laugh, smile and enjoy being with your family!
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I'm a registered dietitian, mom of 4, avid lover of food and strong promoter of healthy habits. Here you will find lots of delicious recipes full of fruits and veggies, tips for getting your kids to eat better and become intuitive eaters and lots of resources for feeding your family.Learn More about Natalie