Teaching Your Preschooler Table Manners

Teaching children table manners is a gradual process, and one of the best ways to begin doing so is by discussing the importance of good behavior during mealtimes with your preschooler, encouraging them to think of themselves as polite and enforcing good behavior until it becomes a habit. Here are a few ways on how you can do this:

Consider your preschooler’s attention span.

Young children tend to have short attention spans and will become restless in situations that require sitting quietly for an extended period of time. It’s a good policy to make sure that your child is the last to be seated at the table to prevent them from getting bored too soon. Also, keep in mind that youngsters won’t be able to sit through an entire adult meal, so once your preschooler is done eating, allow them to leave the table, but make sure they excuse themselves first.

Set a proper table.

By setting out placemats, you’ll effectively define the boundaries within which utensils should remain and establish where everything should go. This will help teach your preschooler where their cup, plate and cutlery should go, and you’ll be able to limit spills and messes resulting from items being placed too close to the edge or in the way of other people at the table.

Start simple.

While your preschooler might not be ready to tackle the finer details of table manners, you can start with the basics, such as hand washing before and after mealtimes, not bringing toys to the table, not throwing or spitting out food, not banging utensils, not yelling or running around the room while others are still at the table, saying “Please” and “Thank you”, asking to be excused once done eating, and helping clear the table. 

Older preschoolers can handle learning to use napkins, chew with their mouths closed, wait for everyone to be seated and served before starting to eat, refrain from making impolite comments about foods they dislike and making positive comments on foods they like instead, drink without making slurping noises, and nicely join in discussions.

Gradually introduce proper use of utensils.

3-year-olds will have their hands full just keeping a hold of their spoon, so putting too much emphasis on how they use it might be too much too soon. As they grow older, your preschooler can be taught when certain utensils should be used and how they should be held.

Remember to enforce good behavior.

Mealtimes are perfect for introducing and encouraging the use of polite words and phrases such as “Please” and “Thank you.” Get the entire family involved and show your child how polite adults behave, and make sure you do this at every mealtime. Older preschoolers can be taught that standing in their chair, talking with their mouths full, and placing their elbows on the table is not allowed. This is also a good time to teach your child the polite way of expressing their food dislikes and how to decline certain foods by saying “No, thank you."

Don’t be overcritical.

Keep the learning process fun by gently guiding your preschooler rather than telling them off for mishaps, oversights and forgetfulness. Praise good manners - without overdoing it - when it counts and try to keep mealtimes a warm and friendly family affair. Your child should want to remain at the table and learn, not be afraid of making mistakes and avoiding mealtime interaction.