We are working diligently to correct a few bad habits (lots of food throwing and dropping on the floor!) and we are spending a good amount of time each day teaching early table manners.
Per usual, I never think it’s too early to start with boundaries and manners. In fact, I wish I would’ve been a little more diligent as a parent and started a little bit sooner.
My son is 12 months old, and while I wish we would’ve started earlier, I do think one year of age is a fine and dandy place to start!
Here are a few ways teaching early table manners can become part of everyday obedience at the breakfast, lunch and dinner table:
1. Start with please and thank you.
Using please and thank you all the time at the table is a great starting point. As parents, sometimes we aren’t in the good habit of saying please and thank you all the time, but the more we use our manners, the more likely young children will learn and understand the words.
Overusing please and thank you is a very good thing!
2. Teach signs for please and thank you.
I’m going to be the first to admit, we haven’t been very intentional with teaching baby sign language, but sign language has enormous value for little ones who aren’t able to verbally communicate well.
Using signs for please and thank you offers your child a way to communicate with the rest of the family. It also allows young children to feel included in the process, and it also increases the likelihood they will use please and thank you too.
3. Encourage use of dinnerware.
This is another area, I hope to start with soon. Until now, I’ve avoided the use of plates and bowls out of fear that my son will just flip it onto the ground. I’m learning that it’s healthy and positive to use a plate and bowl from an early age.
As parents, if we are patient enough, we can teach our little ones to have enough self-control to use a bowl or plate without tipping. Temporarily removing the bowl or plate if your child starts playing is appropriate. Then offer the food again and see if he will use the bowl or plate obediently (i.e. without tipping or playing).
If a child is old enough to walk, you can even start encouraging and helping him carry his dishes to the sink! I love this idea!
4. Encourage a happy spirit.
Like I’ve said before, I believe parents have the power to encourage a good attitude in their children from a very young age.
Please and thank you are appreciated, but a happy spirit is usually encouraged. We also require a happy spirit before removing him from his high chair. No whining in order to get down. This is something we are currently doing, and it’s working really well.
5. A few words about throwing and dropping food.
When noticing poor manners, such a throwing or dropping food, it’s okay to either remove the food or remove the child from his high chair. We can teach young children to learn self-control and obedience at the dinner table. Will they be 100% perfect? Of course not, but it’s reasonable to expect good manners a decent amount of time.
When food throwing or dropping gets out of hand, it’s important to let kids know it’s not okay. We can communicate this to them by verbally communicating and by removing the food from the high chair or by removing the child from the high chair.
6. Model good behavior and manners.
Saying one thing and doing another, only confuses our children, and encourages disobedience. As parents we can model the exact behavior we want our children to embody, as a way of teaching manners. If you don’t want elbows on the table, then model the same behavior yourself. Simply put, be the adult you want your child to be.
Starting early with table manners is both practical and purposeful for teaching boundaries at the dinner table. Getting started is reliant on a strong and patient effort from parents, and as always, consistency will yield the most rewarding results!