Thanksgiving Meal 101: Teaching Table Manners For The Dinner Table
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Thanksgiving Meal 101: Teaching Table Manners For The Dinner Table

Having good table manners is important to teach children at any age. As you're preparing for upcoming holiday celebrations, be sure to sprinkle in a few of these simple lessons and tips on table manners for kids!

Thanksgiving is just around the corner - and it might be the first time eating manners become important for your children. No matter the age, kids can benefit from learning proper table manners (and it's also a great way to impress Grandma and Grandpa!). Teaching a child table manners should be direct, simple, and fun. Whether you have boisterous, picky eaters or quiet, easygoing kids around the dinner table, here are some simple table manners you can practice with your children before that big Thanksgiving feast.

Why are table manners so important for children? 

Little blond girl eating a large plate of pizza wiping mouth with napkin

Most parents want their kids to behave politely - but teaching them how can be easier said than done. At the end of the day, parents aim to teach kids how to be kind, compassionate, responsible, respectful members of society. Good manners are an important foundation.

A child will not learn table manners overnight, and the concept can be especially hard for little kids, who are naturally rambunctious, exploratory, and self-centered. However, it is a good habit to use manners during family dinners and holiday celebrations like Thanksgiving dinner.

Table manners and etiquette are skills that children will learn to exercise in social situations where they are expected. Parents should encourage proper table manners, with a lot of practice and an emphasis on love and fun.

Show your kids examples of good manners.

Kids watch and learn from adults and other family members. If we want them to learn a new behavior, we must first exhibit that behavior for them to observe. Modeling behavior during eating times can be a great habit for parents teaching manners to their children.

Behaviors to model for your kids may include waiting until everyone is seated to begin eating, not talking too loudly at the table, coming to the table with clean hands, and learning to pass a plate.

Set realistic expectations.

Setting realistic expectations for kids is important. Young children don't naturally understand how to use manners. A young child might shout "Ew, gross!" when they are served a new food, or they might chew with their mouth open, or they might sit with their elbows or legs on the table.

Think about the age of your kid and the developmental stage they are at before setting expectations for table manners. It's a learning experience for everyone, and varies by each child's attention span.

Here are some mealtime manners to practice with your kids before Thanksgiving: 

Multi Generation Family Celebrating Thanksgiving

1. Unless told otherwise, wait until everyone is seated and served to begin eating.

It is polite to wait until everyone is seated to begin eating. Whether it's a casual meal or a formal feast, it is nice to wait until everyone is served or has had a chance to get food. It is also polite to sit at the table until most people finish eating - but this is easier said than done with young kids.

2. Chew with your mouth closed.

This is a simple one, and is easy to practice at other more casual meals. Nobody wants to see the food in your mouth - so it is important to teach your children to close their mouths when eating out of respect for others at the table.

3. Be polite in social situations.

Part of learning to eat at the dinner table is practicing being respectful. Don't make disapproving comments about foods, keep your napkin in your lap, say "please" and "thank you," and be quiet when others are talking. These are all habits that are helpful to have when enjoying a meal with other people.

4. Use utensils and napkins.

This is one that many kids forget. Kids love to eat with their hands, but learning how to use utensils is an important skill. Work with your child on knowing what utensil to use for what type of food. You might need to hold the utensil in their hand and guide them through picking up food with a fork or spoon.

Using a napkin (instead of your hand or shirt) is another way of showing respect at the table.

5. Try to hold your utensils properly and cut your food with a fork and knife.

If you have an older child, work with them on using utensils properly. They can practice cutting foods with a plastic, child-safe knife that is easy for them to grip and not sharp enough to become dangerous. Teach them to keep foods on their plate, and cut it into small bites to make it less messy to eat.

6. Put your napkin in your lap before eating.

Every child can learn to put the napkin in their lap when they come to the table. This napkin can be used to wipe their fingers or mouth during the meal. The napkin is also a great reminder for the child not to eat with their hands.

7. Don't play with your food.

Little ones learn to eat by experimenting with food. This means picking it up, squishing it, smelling it, tasting it, and sometimes, playing with it. This is acceptable for infants and toddlers who are beginner eaters.

However, if you have an older child, teach them to show an appreciation of the food provided by not playing with it. Food is made to be enjoyed, and meant to be consumed, not played with like a toy. Toys and games can be enjoyed after mealtime.

Not playing with food also includes learning not to throw food. It also includes trying new foods, and refraining from making bad comments about the food.

8. Try to talk to everyone at the table. 

Family Enjoying Thanksgiving Meal At Table

One of the best tips for social gatherings and young kids is to teach them to be social. Participate in the conversation. Include them in what everyone is talking about. Encourage your children to interact with people at the table. Allow them to pass a plate or bowl, help give them the words to use in conversation, and help your child learn to talk to other people seated near them.

9. Help set the table. 

Mother Children Prepare Meal Mealtime Together

Teach your child to learn to set the table. This shows politeness and respect, and can help get them excited for the meal. Your child will learn how much time and effort goes into preparing big meals and what it takes to serve a group of people for a special gathering.

Don't give kids more than they can handle, but learning where to place utensils, putting a napkin at each place setting, or pouring water into plastic cups can be simple ways of involving kids in setting the table.

10. Leave the electronics for other times.

Although big family gatherings can take a toll on a young kid, it's important to take a break from electronics during mealtime. Teach them to talk to the person next to them, instead of being fixated on a device. When a child is focused on screen time, they lose sight of the social interactions around them.

11. Stay at the dinner table until everyone finishes eating or ask to be excused. 

Multi Generation Caucasian Family Eating Outdoor Dinner

Sitting at the table for a long time can be difficult for a young child. Teach them to wait at the table as long as most people are still eating, or ask nicely to be excused. When a child is done with their meal, if they are old enough, they should take their dishes to the sink. A child should also say "thank you" when leaving the table.

Teaching kids proper etiquette can be simple.

From refraining from rude noises, to learning to stay seated, to chewing with your mouth closed, to waiting to start eating until everyone gets to the table, there are many simple ways for kids to learn table manners. Practicing good table manners is helpful for everyday family dinners and special holiday gatherings alike! 

Meet Our KeaMommy Contributor: Kaitlyn Torrez

I’m Kaitlyn Torrez, from the San Francisco Bay Area. I live with my husband and two children, Roman and Logan. I’m a former preschool teacher, currently enjoying being a stay at home mom. I love all things writing, coffee, and chocolate. In my free time, I enjoy reading, blogging, and working out.

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