Kids and Table Manners

Learn how kids should act at the table and what you can do when they don't act that way.

Trent Armstrong
5-minute read
Episode #121

I recently received an email from a mother who is concerned about her children’s poor table manners. In this article I’ll tell you how kids should behave at the table and how you can get them to behave that way.

How to Teach Kids Table Manners

Kids shouldn't be expected to be adults. They are adults in training. Of course you should have patience with them, but it is your job to teach them table manners.

With very young children, it's best to start the moment they join you at the table. Telling kids not to throw food, take things from others' plates, and talk too loudly are good places to start with babies and toddlers. Don't angrily scold for these things in the beginning. Gentle persuasion and speaking in softer tones will tend to get the point across. 

What Shouldn’t Your Kids Do at the Table?

From a young age, your children should be taught what is and is not acceptable at the dinner table. Yelling is not appropriate. Neither is walking around during dinner. Food should be passed around in an orderly fashion. Fighting for food is not acceptable. No one should chew with his or her mouth open or talk with a mouth full of food. Silverware and plates are not musical instruments during dinner. Dinner food should stay at the table and should not be carried haphazardly around the house and left on the carpet for later. Also, each person should ask the adults if they wish to be excused from the table. These table manners also apply when eating at restaurants, which is even more reason to practice them at home.

How to Enforce the Rules

Instituting these manners is far easier when starting with very young children. Just be consistent and make sure you and your spouse are on the same page. If one parent decides the rules are too stuffy, it will undermine the other parent's work and cause strife. Once you're in agreement with each other, use the gentle guidance I mentioned earlier. Of course you want dinner to be enjoyable. Praise more loudly than you fuss, correct with simple explanations, and don't offer rewards for good behavior. The explanations help kids feel empowered to make good decisions next time, and rewards only serve as a way to teach kids to seek rewards. Feeling good about one's fine table manners will eventually be enough reward and will last a lot longer than a toy or treat.