Our early childhood expert shares about her tips on how to encourage good table manners at an early age
As a teacher who worked in an environment where our students got breakfast at school, we wanted them to have a healthy meal to start their day but beyond that we also made sure that the children had opportunities to sit around a table, develop their social skills, their ability to share while fostering table manners. Table manners are vital skills which could be transferred into other everyday situations. They may seem trivial but helping your child to develop them lays the foundations for nurturing respectful children. Here are six table manners you can help develop from an early age.
Phones around the dinner table are becoming such an issue that hip and trendy restaurants are even coming up with methods to support phone-less meals. Keeping the table a phone-free zone promotes opportunity for conversations and instills in a child the realisation that being on the phone at the table can be considered rude. This will not only develop their ability to listen and pay attention to one another, but it will encourage them to use meal times as a chance to share and discuss their own lives too.
Say Please and Thank You
Meal times are often a chance to practice the basics when it comes to manners. As children may need to request for the ketchup to be passed to them or may want to ask for more of a certain food there are plenty of teachable opportunities. Ensure your child requests things politely by saying ‘please’ and then ‘thank you’ when the item is passed. You should also encourage your child to also appreciate the meal they are about to eat.
Ask to leave the table
When I go to my parents for dinner, I still find myself asking if it’s ok to be excused from the table once I’m done. When I was a child this was a non-negotiable and sometimes my parents refused my request. Don’t feel you have to say ‘yes’ to your child if they ask to leave before other people are finished. Sometimes it’s nice to wait for one another and use the time for continued conversation. Try and ensure meals are a special time and aren’t too rushed.
Wait for others before you start
At pre-school we often sing songs before snack/meal times and we encourage children to say thank you together and then ask if they can start. This once again shows respect for others if you wait patiently and all start eating together. If your child is the last one to receive their plate, they will also feel respected if others have waited for them. This level of respect develops positive self-esteem and a sense of self-worth.
Sometimes children may complain that they aren’t hungry, or they arrive at the table and refuse to eat and may ask to be excused immediately. Ensure children recognise that sitting together is an important part of the day and even if their food goes untouched they are still expected to be at the table. Reenforcing this with toddlers ensures that by the time they are older they understand the expectations for meal times.
Ask to help
Setting the table and clearing up afterwards should all be part of the meal and chores that everyone should take part in. Setting the table is one of the easiest tasks that a child can be entrusted with from an early age and it takes next to no time to complete. Encourage your child to take responsibility for these parts of the meal and value their contribution to the family.