Table manners form a large and visible part of your child’s etiquette repertoire. They are on display for the family every night at dinner and as your child gets older they will be eating in more and more public situations. A lack of proper table manners when the family is out to dinner or special friends and relatives come to dinner or even when your child visits a friend’s house can have serious repercussions for your child.
As a parent, it is your job to provide your child with the skills to navigate these situations successfully. Fortunately, though it may take time and patience, table manners are a relatively simple set of skills for your child to learn.
As always, when it comes to your child’s manners, you are the best teacher and role model around. Be sure that you are modeling the behavior that you wish to encourage in your child since you know that they will mimic what you do in the absence of other influences. You should begin early when teaching your child table manners, but you should also be aware of the limitations of your child. Don’t punish a child too young to hold silverware properly for using their hands, for example. Actually, you shouldn’t be punishing your child at all when it comes to table manners. Instead, take a more positive approach.
Early on, experts suggest that instead of trying to teach your child a specific set of manners you wait and catch them in a mannerism you’d like to change. This is a good time to say, “We chew with our mouths closed, like this. Not open.” That way, you have used positive language to correct your child and given them a concrete example of what to do rather than a lecture filled with an abstract set of rules. Over time, your child will learn many different rules about table manners from you, but if you impart them this way, at the dinner table, they will be more likely to listen and remember them.
Of course your child will not necessarily remember to close their mouths all the time after one single request. Instead, you will find yourself reminding your children to mind the manners you have taught them over and over. That is okay. The repetition will help them to learn the rules over time. Do not be tempted to scold or punish your child for lapses, however, you will get much better results from positive reinforcement of the lesson. Simply be prepared to offer your child a little reminder when necessary and you will begin to see them improve.
The longer and harder the two of you work at it, the easier it will get to remember and display good manners. Your patience will be rewarded and your child will learn to acquit themselves admirably whether they are at the family table or eating with company.
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