How to Teach Children Table Manners

Lessons about table manners help prepare your child for a positive future.

Eating meals with your children can bring you together as a family and present ongoing opportunities for teaching your youngsters polite table manners. Learning about table manners is not a one-time lesson for children. Rather, these skills take ongoing reinforcement to help instill the manners in your children and create permanent habits. Even your youngest children will benefit from learning manners.

Require the use of polite requests and words at the table when family members are asking for things or conversing with others. Expressions such as “Thank you,” “Please” and “Excuse me” form the foundation of social graces and polite manners. For example, all requests for food should sound like, “May I please have more bread?” or “Please pass the salt.” Insist that your child say “Thank you” and “Excuse me” when warranted, also.

Talk about actions you want your children to perform during meals. Possible points to discuss include sitting quietly at the table, and not beginning to eat until everyone sits; placing a napkin onto your lap, and using it to wipe fingers and mouth during a meal; chewing with your mouth closed; not talking with food in your mouth; and not voicing strong negative reactions to food. You might also expect your kids not to slurp food, pick teeth, put too much food in their mouths at one time, slouch or reach in front of others for items, according to the Emily Post website.

Teach the behaviors you desire by example, advises the Center for Parenting Education. Eat as a family often and use polite words, eat neatly, chew with your mouth closed, pass food helpfully, carry on polite conversation with dinner-mates and use your napkin. With consistency, your youngsters will catch on and follow your example.

Watch for mistakes or lapses in manners so you can provide gentle and ongoing correction, as necessary. Without undue harshness, simply call a child’s attention to a mistake in manners and teach the preferred action instead. You might say, “Jonas, please don’t reach for the carrots. Ask me to pass them to you instead.” Positive correction that teaches the desired action is usually an effective teaching method.

Expect your kids to strengthen table manners with consistency and practice, especially when you start training them during toddlerhood. For example, while you will likely need to coach your children to say “Please” and “Thank you” at first, gradually, they will internalize the manners and reminders will no longer be necessary.