Articles for parents

Encouraging good table manners

Nov 2012

Getting children to settle down and eat what they are provided with at meal times can be a challenge. As a result, encouraging good table manners may not always seem like a priority.

However, encouraging good table manners in the home from an early age can avoid the development of inappropriate behaviour when your child matures, enabling you to have enjoyable meals in restaurants and friends' homes instead of feeling restricted to your own dining table for fear of anti-social eating habits.

The following tips may help to encourage good table manners in your children.

Communicating why table manners are important is the first step and this should be done when your child is not hungry or tired. Children are more likely to carry out tasks without complaint if they understand why and are excited by the prospect of doing so.

You can get your child excited about exercising good table manners by explaining that babies and toddlers are too young to manage such a task, but they are now old enough to learn the grown-up way to eat at a table. This will make the task of learning table manners seem more like an honour than another set of rules.

Set expectations of what good table manners include from the start. Explain that table manners include using cutlery correctly and speaking at an appropriate volume, without food in their mouth and only when others are not talking. Remember to explain that arriving at the table when asked to and not leaving until they are excused are all part of good table manners.

Allow your child to ask any questions about this routine and then explain that you will be looking forward to seeing such manners at the next meal time.

At the dinner table
Give your child a quick recap on the manners you are looking to see before your next meal and then let them exercise what they have understood. Praising good behaviour rather than picking up on things they are not doing correctly will be more motivating at the start of the process, though do give them pointers on what they can improve on next time.

Some parents choose to reward children for good behaviour with a points system. You could always give the incentive of taking them for a meal in a restaurant or a friend's house once they have gained enough points.

If you have more than one child, giving them a team target rather than individual ones will encourage them to help each other, rather than compete against each other.

Lead by example
Ensure you practise what you preach. Whilst learning good table manners, your child will look to you for guidance and will copy your behaviour. By displaying your best table manners, your child will soon follow your lead.