Manners Are Served!

More Simple Steps to Teach Kids Table Manners

Have a Seat

By the time kids are 5 or 6, they should be able to sit at the table and remain relatively wiggle-free for at least 20 minutes, says Lynn Rosen, author of Elements of the Table. Start by finding a comfy (yet appropriate) position for your child. Chances are you no longer use a booster seat at the table for her, but your chairs are designed for adults. A cushion might help, and you may find that using a stool from the bathroom as a leg rest also works wonders to keep her facing forward.

At restaurants -- when you know the meal is going to last at least an hour or so -- take a planned trip to the bathroom right after ordering in order to let your kid stretch, suggests Rosen. Also talk to your child in advance about what to do if something goes wrong, like a crayon falls or she spills.

Make Friends with the Fork

Five- and 6-year-olds eat so many finger foods that they can legitimately be confused about what parts of their meal require utensils. "Let your child know that if he's unsure, it's best to ask you," says Betsy Brown Braun, author of Just Tell Me What to Say: Sensible Tips and Scripts for Perplexed Parents. And be consistent about what you require: If, for instance, you don't put a fork in your child's lunch box to eat his mandarin oranges, he'll think it's fine to use his fingers to do it at Grandma's house. Another way to get your kid more comfortable with utensils: Put him in charge of setting the table. You can say something like, "Now that you're getting older, I think you're ready for a grown-up job of getting the table ready for dinner. We'll do it together the first few days, and then you can do it by yourself." Talk to your child about what to expect at restaurants as well. "Let your kid know that it's okay to wipe his mouth with the fancy cloth napkin in a restaurant," adds Rosen. "Many kids this age think you'll be upset with them if they get the napkin dirty."

Show Respect

All the "pleases" and "thank-yous" in the world will seem insignificant if your kid responds, "Eww, that looks gross," when your best friend asks her if she'd like an egg-salad sandwich. Teach your child that if she doesn't want to eat food offered at someone else's house, she simply has to respond, "No, thank you." You may be inclined to push -- "Honey, why don't you give it a try?" -- but then you're inviting a bigger manners no-no: What if she hates it and spits it out? "It's important for your child to taste new foods and work on picky-eating habits, but save it for your house," says Rosen. Using this approach, it seems like it would be easy for a kid to "no thank-you" her way to never eating a green vegetable. But Rosen suggests that, at home, you follow your established rules for trying food; just make sure your kid understands the boundaries.

Originally published in the March 2012 issue of Parents magazine.

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