Kids on the verge of starting school are not capable of comprehending good table manners, but they sure are quick to copy their parents and their siblings!
This is the very point you need to use to start the process, and it is unmistakably a powerful one.
Add humour to the mix and family suppers can be a fun-filled family event instead of having your young one frustrated and ending in tears every night with you pulling your hair out as you try night after night to teach him table behaviour.
Teaching your preschooler table manners from letting them watch their siblings can have a two-fold benefit. Your older siblings will feel important about the task they’ve been set and will feel the need to perform even better, proud that what they are doing is pleasing mommy and daddy. And younger ones will want to be just like big brother and big sister.
Shift of the game
If there are no older siblings then the game shifts sharply onto you, the parents. A calculated mistake on your behalf can lead to your partner pointing it out and you apologising for such behaviour. The game has endless boundaries, whether there are older siblings, a partner or just yourself. You just have to monitor his own capabilities as he grows.
At preschool age, however, there can be some definite table rules which are a must to laying the foundation for good table manners.
- Proper hand washing before joining the family to eat
- No leaving the table without permission
- No playing with food, as in throwing it around or taking it off someone else’s plate
- If they portion their own plate, the portions should be reasonable
- No loud and unruly behaviour of any sort
- Toys of any description or size should not be allowed at the table, lest they cause distraction
- Unless it is finger foods and the child has had this clearly explained, fingers and hands should not be use to eat food (unless culture demands this)
- At the end of the meal, the child should thank whoever prepared the meal.
As the child grows, so more table manners may be introduced such as using a serviette for spills and to wipe his mouth, eating with his mouth closed, and clearing the dishes.
Keep supper time a pleasant time, a time when the whole family truly wants to get together. Ensure it doesn’t become a negative space with lectures, arguments and punishment. It can be difficult to come back from that.
Your child’s natural instinct is to gain your approval, be careful not to destroy it as he tries. He is only little, after all, and this world can be a daunting place for him.
Be steady, dependable in all things including teaching him good table manners. If it takes time, just keep your cool, he is bound to catch on soon.
Why any rules at all
But having said all that, the matter really boils down to choice – the parents’ decision as to what they see is important and what formula they find works. Elbows on the table, formal dress to supper, -eat what you get , leaving the table while others are still eating, talking with food in his mouth; it’s all a case of what is actually important to each individual family – keeping in mind that junior will soon be an ambassador for the family when eating away from home, and perceived rudeness at the table will not reflect well on the parents.
We are all different, but our likes and our dislikes are all just as important to each of us. When it comes to your child’s table manners (or lack thereof!), only you can decide what meets your criteria, using or not using these suggestions to teach him what you deem important.