With all parents, there tend to be things we have a real comfort zone for. So much so, that we zone out and forget about age appropriateness, or if our child truly is capable of doing something we haven’t even considered.
It hit me a few months ago, while watching Bella lick spaghetti off the table at dinner, that perhaps we’d missed the memo on teaching table manners.
I wondered how long I’d blindly sat by and let her eat with her fingers, play with her food, and use her shirt for a napkin. She’s 4 years old. This isn’t as if I’m considering we introduce her to trigonometry. These are basic life skills so that she will have grown-up friends one day.
Friends who use forks.
With the realization of her being old enough to know basic table manners came the thought, “How exactly do I teach her these?”
I decided on the basics (for around her age) that I wanted her to know:
- Waiting to eat until we were all seated
- Holding a fork correctly and using it
- Wiping her face and hands with a napkin
- Not bursting into sobs at the sight of every food she doesn’t like/every food on the table
- Clearing her place at the table
- Washing her own face and hands after a meal
Six basic table manners. That seemed fairly reasonable for her age. Here’s how we went about it:
Introducing: We didn’t dump all six on her at one time. Every few days or so, I’d ask her to start doing one of them. “Would you clear your dishes and bring them to the kitchen? Let’s use our napkin for dinner, it goes in our lap like this.”
Explaining: I told Bella why we were teaching her this, how it is a part of growing up. It helped her become more receptive to trying, as opposed to me just barking orders at her.
Modeling: With both my husband and I showing her how we ate, and remembering to not slack off just because we were at home, it helped her to understand this was something we all do. She also could have a visual reminder of table manners.
Reminding: Surprise! Your child will not remember this in one evening, one week, or maybe even a month. It will take consistent reminding (or nagging, you pick) for them to make this a habit. I had a hard time with that, and there are times I still do. Thinking, “We’ve done this 597 times, what is their deal?” is frustrating for you and them. Pick a fun robot repeating voice and get ready to use it all the time.
Independence: It’s defeating the purpose if every night you place the napkin in their lap, wash their hands and face, and serve only favorite meals. Yes, at first this will create more work for you as they knock things over and bawl that you put those horrid beans on the table yet again. Stick with it.
Rewards: Personally, I have a hard time rewarding kids for things they are supposed to do in life. However, that’s just me. There are times when it truly does work to do this. If your little one is refusing to cooperate or even try, make a reward chart. It doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive. Kids love stickers, so buy a pack of those and a cheap calendar.
Praise: This is something I need to remember more. Be sure (especially at first) to point out what they tried hard to do and/or did right. I can get so caught up in “LOOK at the mess you left on the table,” that I forget to notice she took her bowl to the sink without a reminder. During this time, really try to give genuine praise as you watch them learn.
It took a while, and it’s still a work in progress in many areas, but her table manners have become much better over the past couple of months. She loves placing her napkin in her lap just like us, and I love that after meals her dish is waiting by the sink. It’s a win/win situation for us all.
What are ways you make teaching table manners work for your family?
Diana blogs at Diana Wrote about her life with a daughter here and three sons in heaven, life as an army wife, and her faith. You can also find her work on Liberating Working Moms, She Reads Truth, Still Standing Magazine, The New York Times, and The Huffington Post, with smaller glimpses into her day on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
More from Diana:
- 19 Homeschool Blogs Worth Hiding in the Bathroom to Read
- Why the Legacy of Used Books is Good for Kids
- The Booster Seat
- Science in the Homeschool Classroom