Teaching your children good table manners is a valuable skill that will benefit them throughout their lives. Your children will enjoy dining with others as they mature, starting with lunches in the cafeteria and evolving into first dates and, later, business dinners with colleagues. Instilling proper behavior at the dinner table at a young age teaches your children the value of proper manners and etiquette, which can extend beyond the table into all of their interactions with others. Use your family meal as a teaching moment for your children.
Finger foods are probably a big part of your children's meals, but eating with their hands isn't the most polite way to dine. Talk to your children about the importance of using utensils. Tell them that adults eat with utensils, so encourage them to use a fork, spoon and knife when appropriate. Explain that finger foods -- French fries and sandwiches, for example -- do not require utensils, but non-finger foods require appropriate utensils. Encourage your children to turn to their fellow diners if they are unsure whether they should use their hands or utensils. If other diners are using utensils, your children should as well.
Interacting with Fellow Diners
Good table manners include polite interaction at the dinner table. Teach your children how to politely ask for food, such as "May I please have the butter?" or "Could you please pass the butter?" Encourage them to thank their fellow diners for passing the food. Your children should also learn to express their gratitude when the food is served and when the meal is complete. Likewise, explain to your children that speaking negatively about the food is rude, particularly when the cook is sitting across the table from them.
Many children are messy eaters. Teaching your children to eat properly is an important part of possessing good table manners. Encourage your children to take small bites, which will be easier to chew. Tell them to chew with their mouths closed and wait until they have swallowed their food to speak. Explain that talking with a mouthful of food is impolite. Likewise, teach your children that slurping food, such as soup, or burping at the table are also inappropriate.
Behaving at the Table
Good table manners extend beyond how your child eats. Emphasize the importance of proper behavior at the dinner table as well. Teach your children to sit still and stay seated until everyone at the table finishes their meal. Encourage children to ask to be excused from the table. You should also instruct children to keep their elbows and heads off the table. Talk to your children about the value of conversation, engaging with their fellow diners and making eye contact when they talk to others.