3 Tips on practicing Table Manners at home just in time for the holidays!

“Your children have the best manners!” exclaimed my neighbor after a recent playdate with my kids.

“Me? Mine?” I said confused. “Oh, yes, thank you. We work on it constantly.” Well, that part is true, actually. So I’m glad to see my kids are polite at other people’s dinner tables. Often times at home, it’s a different story.

With the holidays coming up and our family’s table manners about to be on display for all mother- in-laws to see, it’s the perfect time to put the full court press on reinforcing proper mealtime etiquette with the littles.

Now, every parenting article in the world will tell you to start your kids young. But I’m not here to start from the beginning. I’m just here to get you through Thanksgiving. And maybe Christmas if you’re lucky. All joking aside, the best way I’ve found to teach and maintain (because maintaining is the key) my children manners is to, at first, make a game out of it. Pretend play is super fun for kids, but it teaches them by doing!

#1 Here’s how to Start

Get ready for the holidays with this fun dinnertime setup: Have the kids ready themselves for a special meal– faces clean, hands washed, properly attired? Ok, everyone’s ready to go! Greet them at the door and remind them to respond with a friendly greeting in return just like you would with family and other guests.

#2 Here’s how to get Kids Excited

Here’s where the fun starts. Everyone gets a piece of paper and a pen. Every time someone “uses their manners”, they get a check mark (you can decide on your own reward system for checks). Once seated at the dinner table, talk enthusiastically about the basics (napkins in laps, passing dishes, not talking with your mouth full, waiting for everyone to be seated before eating, etc.) Check, check and check!

#3 Here are Things to Focus On

A big one for me is teaching kids to say “no thank you” when offered food that doesn’t appeal to them rather than an “ewwww, gross, I don’t like that, no way!” Someone took the time to make that dish and it’s just rude to respond any other way. End rant.

Next, talk about how important it is to participate in conversation, particularly when asked direct questions. Holiday guests and family will surely ask, “What grade are you in this year? Do you like school? What’s your favorite subject?” etc. Explain to your kids that people ask questions because they’re interested in them, and it’s totally ok for kids to reciprocate and ask their own questions. Check, check and check!

My kids are always the first be finished at the dinner table. Not because they’ve eaten everything, but because they’re “done.” Remind kids that it’s polite to patiently wait (kids love patiently waiting) for the table to finish before it’s acceptable to get up (be excused, please), clear plates or my least favorite, ask for dessert while others are only halfway through their meal. Don’t forget to end with a “That was delicious, thank you very much!” Check and check.

Kids learn by modeling behavior. Get crazy with the pleases, thank yous and you’re welcomes. I say, always start out with overkill and you’ll be happy when you get the norm. Praise louder than you fuss. Remember, you’re teaching them, this stuff isn’t inherent. Very quickly, your kids will be oozing etiquette and you’ll wonder where all these social graces have been hiding.

“Those well behaved children? Why yes, they are mine, thank you.” Happy holidays!

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