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Table Manners: Back to Basics, Teaching Kids Table Manners | Wednesday’s In the Know

Photograph:   Sleep Should be Easy

I was around 10 or 12 when my mom asked if I would be interested in attending a Miss Manners event held at the gorgeous Fairmont Olympic Hotel in Downtown Seattle, Washington. I’m not sure if the word “overnight” sold me, or that fact it was at the Fairmont hotel, but regardless, we packed my best party dress, white gloves, ties for my outrageously curly hair, that’s a whole story on its own, and headed downtown. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but as most 10 years old are excited about new adventures and overnights, I was ready for what was to come.

We spent the day learning how to set the table, fold napkins, proper placement of glasses and the bread and butter plate, and how to serve and pass food around the table. Lucky for me, I was being instilled with these lessons as a toddler knowing not to leave my chair during dinner, how to keep my napkin on my lap, which silverware to use when, no elbows on the table, chewing with my mouth closed, etc. etc. etc.

So, here we are 25 years later, amazed at what I see when I go out to eat. Kids, running around restaurants with no supervision which is not only disrupting to the guests nearby, but dangerous. “Yes, your child is adorable but not when I am trying to enjoy a nice evening and they are running around roaring like tigers.” Think of all the hot trays of coffee and food coming to and from the kitchen and your child serving as a major tripping hazard.  I cannot even imagine doing–nor getting away with–that when I was a child.

I’m often asked for tips on getting kids to not only try new foods, which I talked about a few weeks ago (Click HERE for the direct link), but also how to teach table manners. Great question, I wish more people asked!

Here are a few of my top tips:

  • Please and Thank You: Always a good place to start, make sure you are reinforcing the please and thank you at the dinner table.
  • Don’t Bribe Kids: Never tell them to sit and be good or no dessert. Kids should know when certain behaviors are allowed, think indoor and outdoor voice, and should be reinforced with good behavior for doing good things! Plus, kids shouldn’t have restaurant size desserts every single night, it’s just not healthy!
  • Make it Short and Sweet: Kids patience level, let’s face it, is small! Don’t expect them to still during your 5-course meal. That’s not setting anyone up for success.
  • Give them an Activity: I whole heartedly don’t agree with putting an iPhone or iPad in front of kids because it’s getting them hooked on TV. Instead, bring coloring books, reading books or other activity books for them to play with, and get the whole family to engage. This way, they are learning while the whole family is coming together. I just hate seeing families at dinner with each kid on their own device with no engagement. Family time around a meal is such a great way to check in with everyone. Make this time count!
  • Make it Fun! Teaching can be fun if done in the right way. Don’t demand, but ask questions which get them to come to the conclusion in their own. Always reinforce by also showcasing good table manners so your children have an example to emulate.
  • Miss Manner Classes: I am sure they still exist and they are so fun! Kids are with other kids learning these life skills in a non-threatening fun way. Then, it’s up to you to reinforce at home and make sure everyone is on the same page.

Take advantage of good manners while contributing to “family time:”

Content provided by Sleeping Should be Easy

Create a positive eating experience.

Kids can display poor table manners because they’re not enjoying themselves (Read: tired, ignored, over-stimulated). Consider the following ways you can make meal times more pleasant:

  • Engage everyone in conversation. Mealtimes at our house usually involve my husband and I discussing topics between each other, sometimes at the cost of ignoring our little guy. While he should definitely be exposed to adult conversation (so he can pick up new words and realize that his parents’ lives extend much farther than coloring and play dough), he should also be included in the conversation. We’ll do this either by talking to his level and explaining what we’re discussing, or asking one another, including him, how our day had gone.
  • Ask kids to help at the dinner table. They’ll love helping and handling real, adult items like the salt shaker and napkins, as well as helping to set the table.
  • Discuss food. With conversations and meals going hand in hand, directing the focus back towards the food on our plate keeps kids engaged and present in what they’re doing. Ask your child what her favorite part of the meal is. Discuss the colors in the food, the textures, the smells.
  • Establish the importance of family dinners. Making a routine of gathering together for dinner has been cited for improved vocabulary and less obesity, just to name a few of the many benefits of this simple ritual.

Here is a better look at what we can be teaching our kids at each age level:

Content provided by Scholastic.com

Age 3 – 5:

What to Teach

  • To sit at the table — sit, no wiggling or wandering around — for about 15 to 30 minutes.
  • To wait until everyone is seated to start eating. Simple as that.
  • How to use a napkin. First, show your kid how to place it in her lap when she sits down. Next, show her how to use it — ahem, not her sleeve — to wipe her mouth and replace it on her lap. “Once you’ve explained the basics, just say ‘napkin’ — your kids will know what to do without things getting negative,” says Jones.
  • How to chew with their mouth closed. “Take a bite of food and chew with a wide-open mouth so your kid sees all the mashed-up food. Ask, ‘Is this grossing you out? That’s why we chew with our mouth closed.’ It explains the rules in a light, fun way,” says Jones.
  • The polite way to ask for food: “Please pass the potatoes” rather than “I want more potatoes.”
  • Not to make comments like “Yuck!” Preschoolers often don’t understand the concept of hurt feelings — so just tell your child it’s not nice to say bad things about the food. Have them say: “I don’t really care for this.”

Ages 6 to 7


This is the age when kids learn how their actions affect other people (and vice versa), which can help them understand the whys behind manners.

What To Teach

  • How to use a knife. By now, kids have developed the fine motor skills necessary to cut their own food. Show them how to gently slice back and forth, rather than stabbing at the chicken.
  • Why it’s not appropriate to make negative comments about the food. Around first grade, kids really start to get the whole empathy thing — and you can explain how saying “Eeeeww!” can hurt the cook’s feelings, says Jones.
  • How to dispose of food you don’t like. “The rule is that it goes out the way it went in,” says Post Senning. “So if your child used their fork to take a bite of asparagus, the asparagus goes quietly back to the plate on the fork.”
  • To thank the person who prepared the meal.

Ages 8 to 10

Build Skills

By now your child is flying solo a lot more (going to sleepovers, heading to a neighbor’s house to hang), which makes it an ideal time to talk about how he should behave as a guest — and host.

What To Teach

  • To be a good host: Offer your guests something to eat and drink and never eat something without first serving it to friends.
  • Cell phones and other electronic devices are not allowed at the table. Mealtime is a social occasion, and having your face buried in Minecraft does not count as socializing.
  • How to serve and pass food at the table. Teach things like using the serving spoon — not her own spoon — to dish from a common bowl. Also, if someone asks her to pass the bread, she should hand over the bread basket, not just a single slice.

And, if you’re on a date with someone that clearly hasn’t taken Miss Manners class, forward them this link or you better start thinking through that second date! J

For other terrific tips and hundreds of recipes, visit my website (thetabletogether.com). While there, consider “subscribing” and I will send a new tip or blog post directly to your inbox every Tuesday and Wednesday morning!

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Cheers to starting a new tradition around The Table Together!



Tiffany Lewis

Founder and true believer in the power of bringing people around The Table Together!