Parents may long for children who are well-behaved at the dinner table, particularly in the presence of guests. However, mealtime manners do not come naturally to most kids, so proper dinner table etiquette must be taught and enforced before children can be expected to mind their mealtime Ps and Qs.
Children begin learning basic manners as young as one year old. During this time, when your child’s speech is developing, teach him or her to say “please,” “thank you” and “excuse me” at meals. As your child grows, teach new manners by example, such as:
- Place unfolded dinner napkins in your lap
- Ask for food to be passed, rather than reaching for it
- Avoid interrupting other people’s conversations
- Use eating utensils properly
- Avoid negative opinions /conversation at the dinner table
- Chew with your mouth closed
Manners eventually become habit, but not before children have had plenty of practice. Don’t wait for guests to arrive or a nice evening out to teach your kids how to behave during a meal. Instead, make dinner etiquette a fun, family pastime at every meal. Be patient while your children learn which behaviors are socially acceptable and which ones are not.
Use Positive Reinforcement
Children learn best in positive situations. When your child uses good manners at dinner, show positive reinforcement with verbal praise, recognition or perhaps a hug. Gently correct unacceptable behavior as needed, but place greatest emphasis on reinforcing acceptable behavior at the time it is exhibited at the dinner table or in any other setting.