Are You Raising Rude Eaters?

No Common Courtesy

Wiping Her Mouth on Her Sleeve (or Yours)

Manners Makeover By age 2, your child is capable of cleaning her face and hands properly. Demonstrate how to do it, and give her two napkins -- one to keep on the table, another to place in her lap. Avoid using a napkin as a bib once your child is 4: She needs to learn to eat neatly.

Making Rude Comments About the Food

Manners Makeover Young kids tend to blurt out the first thought that pops into their head, so you'll need to practice having them think things without saying them ("If you have nothing nice to say, don't say anything"). Explain that insulting the food or making sour faces is impolite and hurts the cook's feelings. Help your child find something to compliment ("The potatoes were really good"). Also introduce new foods at home regularly, so he's less likely to turn up his nose at something unfamiliar that's being served.

Interrupting Other People

Manners Makeover Your child may be bored by adult chitchat, but it's important to ask her to wait her turn. If she breaks in while you're talking, say, "Please hold the thought for a minute, and then I'll listen." If she keeps saying, "Excuse me," don't give in. But do explain the one exception: It's all right to interrupt if she really needs to use the bathroom.

Leaving the Table Without Being Excused

Manners Makeover Your child will last longer at a meal if he feels included. Eliminate distractions by turning off the TV, ignoring phone calls, and setting aside the mail. Ask him to tell you three fun things he did today, or see whether he can think of five animals that are black and white. Since kids finish eating faster than adults do (and have a shorter attention span), it's okay to excuse him once he's been sitting for at least 15 minutes. But make sure he asks (and receives) permission, thanks you for the meal, and clears his place setting first.

Eating Before Everyone Else

Manners Makeover If your child is starved because you're eating later than usual, you may need to give her a small snack to tide her over. But there's an easy way to instill patience and respect for the family meal: Start saying grace. It doesn't need to be religious. Try something short and sweet: "We're thankful to all be together. Let's enjoy the food." Kids love rituals and won't mind waiting a little if they know what to expect every night.

Sources: Lyudmila Bloch, etiquette coach and coauthor of The Golden Rules of Etiquette at The Plaza; Peggy Post, coauthor of The Gift of Good Manners: A Parent's Guide to Raising Respectful, Kind, Considerate Children; Elizabeth Verdick, coauthor of Dude, That's Rude! (Get Some Manners).

Copyright © 2007. Used with permission from the December 2007 issue of Parents magazine.

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