Inculcating good table manners and proper dining etiquette is very important as a fundamental life skill. It prepares children to eat with discipline, maintain a healthy lifestyle and demonstrate respect and consideration for others. There are also many proven health benefits. Children learn to maintain good hygiene, such as washing their hands before eating to prevent the spread of germs, regulating portion sizes, chewing their food properly and sitting in the right posture to aid digestion.
What are some ways to reinforce good table manners?
- Starting them early
The best time to cultivating children’s mealtime etiquette begins as early as possible. Children can start adapting these habits from the moment they are able to use a highchair. They may not be able to use cutlery at this point, but they learn to understand that utensils are used and food should remain on the tray or table and not anywhere else. As they grow, they realise what can or cannot be done.
Encouraging independence and getting children into a routine from their first day in school is essential. When they’re as young as 18 months old, children in school should be encouraged to collect their own plates and utensils, pour their own drinks and to tidy away when they have finished.
Be consistent wherever and whenever you are having a meal together. Getting children to adapt to rules and expectations takes time. Set simple rules and praise your child for following through successfully. Gently remind them when certain rules are not being followed. Decide together what behaviours are important to you as a family.
- Be a role model
Sit and eat alongside children to model good habits and correct behaviours. We expect children to say “please” and “thank you”, have respectful and polite conversations, listen to others, take turns and not to speak with their mouths full. During mealtimes, ensure that they do not play with or fuss about the food that is being served to them.
In the modern world it can be challenging to take time to sit down as a family, share a meal and instil good eating habits, but making this time can be invaluable for securing expectations and ensuring quality time together to share and converse. Try to keep electronic devices away during mealtimes. Demonstrate proper table manners yourself to set a good example. Routine and modelling are essential to helping children learn.