When we think about toddlers and table manners images of flying food and dropped peas race across our brains. Sauce smeared into the high char or table, bits and pieces of the meal all over the floor. At one stage we even had a drop sheet under Ariella’s high chair. At another time I decided meal times could only be outside because I was so exhausted from cleaning up the mess associated with the daily feed. So how can such a little messy munchkin start to learn table manners? Is it even possible?
Here are my Top 5 Tips for developing good table manners:
1.Set the table and eat together as a family. For years I just gave Ariella her food at a small kiddy table and she ate while I cleaned up. This was great because it gave me a moment to get chores done but when we switched to setting the table and making a “thing” of dinner her table manners started developing beyond belief.
2. Lead by example. Children don’t just listen with their ears, they learn by watching and taking in everything their parents and siblings do. Demonstrate how to hold a knife and fork properly right from an early age and your child will pick it up in no time. Show how to place a napkin, explain how the table is set and how to put the cutlery together when the meal is finished. These tiny little things help build the foundations for a solid set of table manners and remember if your little one does even the tiniest thing right praise, praise, praise!
3. Make meal time a bonding experience that your toddler enjoys and looks forward to. Talk about lovely things they did that day, ask questions and be interested in the things that they are interested in. When toddlers are getting lots of attention they tend to do less attention-grabbing bad behaviours. It really helps mealtime go smoothly and sets the expectations that it is a special time for the family.
4. Make up little rhymes to teach the basics, it helps kids remember them when they are young and when they are older it will already be ingrained in them. Spoon and knife are husband and wife, spoon and knife go on the right. Fork is best on the left. When I leave say may I please..
5. Practice gratitude. Even if you are not religious starting the meal with a little thank you statement can really go a long way in teaching kids how to behave well. If gratitude is not a concept your child can grasp yet ask them before they start the meal something that they are happy for that day. Then over time slowly change and develop this into gratitude and thanks.
Remember, as with anything, developing table manner is a work in progress. Be patient, as your child will surely get it wrong way more times that they get it right in the beginning. Be heavy on the praise and hold back your frustrations when things go flying around the room. After all, this is a natural part of growing up right?