Manners Matter! Kitchen Table Etiquette for Kids

My 3-year-old grandson and I were eating dinner together. His father is British and manners matter in their household.
“It’s important not too chew with your mouth open,” I said to Finn. “Like this,” and I smacked and chomped noisily, a little piece of chicken dangling from my lips.
Finn looked at me solemnly. “That’s how YOU eat sometimes,” he said.
“I know I know,” I said ”But don’t do it, chew like this,” and I pressed my lips together politely in an exaggerated version of Emily Post. “You make sure I don’t do it, and I’ll make sure you don’t do it.”
We finished dinner watching each other’s mouth, and I marveled how manners are a never-ending process, no matter how old you are.

Why are manners important? In a nutshell, we live in groups, and manners keep people comfortable in social settings. Manners are an important part of social skill development, and strong social skills can open doors, provide opportunity, and give children more scope and choice in their lives.

“Think of manners as traffic lights for life,” said Pier Forni, the author of Choosing Civility: The Twenty-Five Rules of Considerate Conduct. “The rules of good manners are the traffic lights of human interaction. They make it so that we don’t crash into one another in everyday behavior.”

Although good manners include courtesy, respect, and consideration, I am focusing here on table manners. We eat every day, hopefully sitting down together as a family once in a while, and it is an opportunity to gently guide our kids with the traffic lights of the kitchen table.

As you teach your children keep in mind:
• Start young! Even toddlers can stay seated at the table for 10 minutes, and say please and thank you
• Don’t overwhelm your child with 10 rules all at once. It is an ongoing process that takes time
• Model the behavior you want yourself, as Finn so kindly pointed out to his Nana
• Be consistent with your expectations. You are creating a template your child can take from the backwoods to the White House, and like any other skill or resource we teach, it needs to be a routine expectation—not just for eating out or formal dinners

Here are the manners I considered most important in raising our four kids:

1. Wash your hands before coming to the table
2. Wait until everyone is seated before eating
3. Place a napkin in your lap
4. Don’t reach for food, ask for it to be passed
5. Don’t rush
6. Say please when you want something, thank you when you receive it, and excuse me if you are interrupting
7. No phones, books, or technology at the table. This goes for parents too
8. Take smallish bites, and do not talk with your mouth full
9. Stay seated all together until the last person finishes, then ask to be excused (this is a challenging but good one—we couldn’t always follow it, but I tried to make leaving the table early an exception rather than rule)
10. Clear your dishes and bring them to the sink
11. Thank the chef! Expressing gratitude is one of the loveliest forms of human interaction

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