Imagine you are out to dinner with your family when suddenly your kid starts fidgeting. His napkin is on the floor, his elbows are on the table, and no matter how many times you ask, he still chews with his mouth open. Despite being in a family-friendly restaurant, you’re embarrassed. Haven’t you taught him right from wrong? It isn’t exactly an easy task to get these important lessons to stick.
“Most importantly, major kudos to any parent who recognizes the importance of instilling table manners in his or her children,” commends Maggie Oldham, a Modern Etiquette Coach.
“Good table manners are important life skills that will benefit children throughout their lives. Good table manners — in both children and adults — show confidence, sophistication, intelligence, discipline, and self-control. Good table manners set children up for success at an early age.”
To help you make sure you are successful in this endeavor, Oldham has provided us with five tips that will help you make sure your kids are on track to being perfectly polite at every table.
Start with Yourself
Start to become consciously aware of your own patterns of behavior and table manners, and ensure that you're always modeling good manners in front of your child. This works especially well with toddlers and younger children —the age where they want to be "just like you!"
Don't Separate Table Manners From the Dining Setting
When children are young, it is more difficult for them to distinguish casual from formal settings, so you should model the same table manners you would have in a nice restaurant when you're at the kitchen table or school cafeteria. If children see the same table manners at every meal — regardless of the setting — they're much more likely to pick up on those behaviors in all settings. If your table manners are lax at home, you can't expect children to suddenly have impeccable table manners when dining out at a restaurant. Keep it consistent!
Know the Basics
Children of all ages should be taught basic table manners, which include putting their napkins in their laps, not chewing with their mouths open, using the correct utensils (and being able to determine which foods are acceptable to eat with fingers), asking for items to be passed to them, saying “please” and “thank you,” and asking their parent(s) to be excused from the table before getting up. To teach these basic table manners, again, it is important to model them physically, but also to verbally demonstrate the behavior.
Teach Children the ‘Why’ Behind Table Manners
Instead of snapping at your son to "Chew with your mouth closed," gently remind him that chewing with his mouth closed makes him look more "grown up" and that "big kids" remember to chew with their mouths closed at school. You could also explain to your daughter that putting her napkin in her lap will "help to keep [your] beautiful dress clean."
The most effective way to instill table manners in your child is to stay consistent. Teaching table manners is just like any other kind of childhood "training" — children need to be gently reminded daily, and, most importantly, praised when they do a good job. Patience and consistency are key when instilling table manners.