Teaching little ones how to have good manners will take patience and practice, but it's an important step toward helping them grow into well-mannered and respectful adults. Praise them for good behavior like offering to clear dishes following a meal. Most importantly, be a good role model so they can follow by example. These dining etiquette tips for kids are intended for meals at home, but they can easily translate into manners for dining out at restaurants, eating at birthday parties, and dining with other families.
Get kids in the habit of washing their hands before eating. The CDC recommends washing hands for 20 seconds (that's about two run-throughs of the "Happy Birthday" song) to kill germs. Ask them to lather up with soap and warm water, rinse, and dry hands with a towel.
Meals are a time to savor the company of family and friends, and the great food they've prepared. Unplugging during meals allows kids to live in the moment and focus on the tastes, smells, and sounds that make up the dining experience. Switch smartphones and tablets onto vibrate or silent mode before sitting down to dine, and make an effort to implement a No Screens at Mealtime policy. Another idea? Make a game of it: The first person to pull out an electronic device during mealtime has to do the dishes!
Regardless of how the table is set, the whole party should be seated before anyone starts chowing down. Some families may also say a short blessing before a meal. Teach your child to be respectful by clasping her hands and bowing her head until the prayer is over and it's time to eat.
When trying to help kids understand how to contribute to the table conversation, remember this simple practice: Be interested in what family members have to say, and they will be interested in what you say. Encourage children to speak about pleasant subjects like a favorite project at school or a recent sports match, and ask them to say "excuse me" if they must interrupt when someone else is talking or telling a story. This is also an opportunity to remind her to take small bites, chew slowly, and swallow her food before speaking.
Rather than reaching in front of others, instruct children to say "please" and "thank you" when they want a dish to be passed their way. If the child is old enough to serve herself, gently remind her to be courteous to fellow diners by passing the dish counterclockwise to the next person after she's filled her plate. Should she dislike an item on her plate after trying it, let her know that it's unacceptable to say things like "ew" or "gross," which may hurt the host's feelings.
Resting elbows on the table is considered impolite and can lead to accidental spills. Some families are more relaxed about this somewhat formal dining rule, but it's still a good one to implement (plus, it encourages better posture).
Let children know that even if they are finished eating, it's polite to wait for everyone in the family to complete the meal before leaving the table. Once dinner is over, help children push their chairs up to the table so they're not in the way of other guests.
Many hands make light work. Teach children to help parents or hosts clean up, and it'll soon become part of their postdinner routine at home and at friends' houses. Delegate age-appropriate tasks to children, such as transferring the dishes to the sink, loading the dishwasher, or helping put away leftover food.
The amount of effort that goes into planning, shopping, preparing, and serving a meal shouldn't go unappreciated. Clean plates may be a good indication of a well-enjoyed dinner, but it's essential to verbally express gratitude. Encourage children to give the cook a genuine "thank-you" following a meal. If the child didn't care for the meal (hey, it happens), she should still say a polite "thank-you."