Table manners

21st September 2020

Children are usually very restless, get easily bored at the dinning table and don't know what they should and shouldn't do. However, no one is born with this knowledge, so you have to calmly and patiently show them how to behave.

By the age of three, children are usually eating at the table with the rest of the family. You should now start teaching them some table manners so they can learn to behave well from a young age. A lot of parents let children do what they want just because they are children. However, if you don't teach them good manners quickly, they will be very difficult to change when they are older.

When it comes to setting table manners rules, it's best that children eat with the rest of the family (if their schedules coincide) because they are at a stage of imitating others. Children do what they see, so you should "lead by example". If you ask a child not to do something, it is very important that you don't do it yourself. Consistency between what you say and do is fundamental when it comes to instilling rules. Furthermore, for example, if a child sees that his siblings don't leave the table while eating, he will not want to do it either and eating together will be more enjoyable.

It is also important to establish routines so your child can associate what to do with a certain time: eating more or less always at the same time, washing his hands before eating and sitting down while waiting to be served. This is much better than serve the food and then ask your child to come. It's also best that your child has an allocated place at the table.

Some rules to be followed

It is no use thinking that you can sit a three-year old at the table and have him behaving perfectly in two days. You need to be patient and teach the rules gradually, starting with the most basic and moving on to the more difficult rules.

Some of the main rules you may want to teach are:

  • Don't get up from the table halfway through the meal, or without waiting for everyone else to finish, unless it's something urgent.
  • Wait until all the family or guests are seated before starting to eat unless told otherwise.
  • Don't chew with your mouth open or talk with your mouth full. Don't play with your food. Remember that very young children are clumsy. Sometimes using cutlery is difficult and you should not scold them for this.
  • There is no need to shout or interrupt others while they are talking. This rule should apply at all times.
  • Nose picking is forbidden while eating, as well as scratching your head at the table. Taking off their shoes is another favourite of children but they should not be barefoot at the table.
  • When a number of siblings are at the table, reward those who behave well and don't devote all your time to the one who is "playing up", because the others may start to misbehave just to get your attention.
  • They should learn to say thank you when you serve them and to offer to help to set and clear the table.
  • They need to understand that they must eat everything they are served unless they are ill or are full.

Some basic guidelines

The first thing to remember is don't do what you tell your children not to do. For example, if they are not allowed to put toys on the table or play, nor should you talk on the phone or answer messages.

Teach the rules gradually and don't bring them out all at once, otherwise children will not learn them and continue doing whatever they like. Start with the simplest rules, such as eating everything on the plate, not making a mess and not leaving the table before finishing. Then move on to the more difficult rules.

Your tone should be neutral and firm. Don't shout or be impatient. Sometimes children deliberately misbehave, but other times they just forget the rules and misbehave as a result. Or they try to do something by themselves and get it wrong, such as pouring water into a glass and getting it all over the floor.

Praise them when they behave as they should, but there is no need to reward them with gifts – words are more than enough. Your job is not done if your child misbehaves but still eats all his food. He should eat and eat while following the rules.

Gradually he will pick up the routine and soon enough he will be behaving properly at the table, although it's worth remembering that children will be children.

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