Table manners— tips for your kids

No matter how mouth-wateringly delicious Mom’s meals are, having bad mannered guests for dinner always tends to leave a bad taste in everyone’s mouth…especially when the guests are your own kids! A child is never too young to learn basic table manners so start early. Parents can begin teaching simple table manners while their little one still uses a high chair. Older children should learn more age-appropriate table manners and practice proper dinnertime etiquette as well.

Parents can start young children off with these basic table manners:

• Promote hand washing before every meal. Even toddlers and older infants who are beginning to eat finger foods should wash or have their hands washed before they sit down to eat.
• Correct toddlers when they throw food.  Use age-appropriate language such as, “No. We don’t throw food.” You will probably need to reinforce this over and over, so don’t get frustrated with your child.
• Tell your child about the proper use of utensils. A child’s physical development affects how he or she holds and uses utensils so don’t expect toddlers to hold their utensils properly. It is enough that a toddler knows a spoon is for soup and a fork is for vegetables. Older children, on the other hand, should be shown how to hold and use utensils properly.
• Set a good example by using good table manners yourself. Children learn what they live. For example, say “please” and “thank you” when you ask a family member to pass the potatoes or gravy.
• Explain to your children that it is polite to wait for everyone to be served before beginning a meal, and then model that behavior for your kids.
• Introduce your kids to new food even if the child thinks the food looks unappetizing. Explain to your kids that they should never verbally say the food is “gross” at the dinner table.

As kids get older, parents can familiarize them with dinnertime etiquette for more formal occasions that will surely impress the guests. Some things your older kids should know for your next family gathering or holiday dinner include:

• How to welcome guests. Kids should learn the proper way to greet relatives and guests. Many kids simply do not know what to say or do. If your family is hosting the event at your home, instruct your kids about properly opening the door and taking any coats.
•  If you are serving appetizers, ask your youngsters to act as a good host or hostess. Instruct them on what to ask and how to serve the guests.
• At the table, show kids how to pull out a seat for a guest, hold it and help them scoot to the table. Boys can do this for ladies or girls, and boys or girls can do the same for older guests as a sign of respect.
• Show kids how to place a napkin in their laps. Tell them how to sit up straight and near the table.  Be sure to inform youngsters to keep their elbows off the table as well.
• Discuss how tables are set up, where forks, knives and spoons go, why sometimes there are utensils above the plates and what particular order means (using the outside utensil first).
• Talk about the no-no’s of “double-dipping,” slurping, licking fingers or the ever-tempting dragging a finger across the side of an item to taste it (i.e. icing on the cake).
• Tell your kids to practice sitting up straight and not hunched over. Remind them to bring food from their plate to their mouth rather than hover over it.
• Explain bread etiquette and how bread plates are positioned to the upper left of a dinner plate. Kids need to learn to just butter a small portion of their bread not the entire piece. Also, point out how some bread can be torn off with your hands while other types may need to be cut. 
• Practice napkin use by showing kids how to wipe their mouth appropriately, and where to put the napkin if they need to get up.
• Give your kids some conversation ideas to talk about during dinner. But, be sure to emphasize that they should not talk with their mouths full or chew with their mouth open. Remind kids to eat slowly and not gobble down their food.
• Tell youngster to always use utensils and only eat with their fingers when it is appropriate. Sometimes even French fries need to be eaten with a fork depending on the particular occasion or event.
• Kids should always thank the cook for the delicious meal-—even if they did not like it that much. Someone put forth an effort, and kids should be taught to be appreciative.
• Instruct your children to always remain seated until everyone is finished eating. Tell them to always say “May I please be excused?” if they need to leave the table and wait for permission to leave the table. Kids should not simply get up whenever they feel like it.
• Parents should set the stage for success through practice. A “fancy table” can be set up at home and kids can ask questions and practice so that they are comfortable and familiar enough to wow everyone with their great table manners when it truly counts! 

Mona Chabra is a freelance writer from Sewickley, PA.