Children's Manners Series: Gracious Dining | Do Say Give

Children’s Manners Series: Gracious Dining

Children's Manners

Last week we started a new children’s manners series on DoSayGive. Instead of sharing an overwhelming laundry list of manners to teach your children, we are sharing key concepts or “lessons” under which most manners fall. You can start teaching these concepts in your home from a young age and continue to build on them throughout their childhood. And if you’ve never been intentional about teaching manners to your children, I promise it’s not too late to start!

Once you have an overarching reason for teaching manners (read lesson #1)  it is much easier to start with the other “lessons” in this series.

“All creatures eat, but only man dines.”

-Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management.

Today’s lesson is about gracious dining which covers setting the table and basic table manners. How do we teach these manners? The same way for all the manners – or habits – in this series:

Model. Role Play. Praise. Repeat. 

Model: The most effective way to teach table manners is to model them for our children at home and when we are out to dinner.

Role Play: An enjoyable way to teach and test table manners is through role playing. “Play” restaurant, have a dress up tea party, or go out to a casual dinner just to practice!

Praise: Praising good manners goes way further than criticism or humiliation. Try to praise as much as you correct!

Repeat: As with all habits, repetition is the key to forming good ones and cutting out the bad ones.

My grandmother used to joke that “children are like wild animals that needed to be molded into something presentable.” I think she had a point. Children do not come out of the womb knowing how to chew with their mouth closed or say please and thank you. It is up to us to mold them into civilized members of society. Not for our own glory, but so that they can not only be respectful of the people around them but also so as not to embarrass themselves as they get older.

Let me tell you a little story of this in my own life. My husband works long hours and a few years ago I had become a little lackadaisical when it came to “family dinners.” He often wasn’t home by dinnertime so I stopped putting effort into our table time. I would serve my girls from the stove and they would sit down and start eating as soon as they were served, not waiting on one another. I would start cleaning the kitchen while they were still eating so I wasn’t right by them encouraging good table manners and, more importantly, family conversation and daily bonding.

There were two results of this:

In a matter of months, they seemed to “forget” all the gracious table manners I had spent years instilling in them. Ahh!

When my husband was able to join us for dinner, he and I spent most of the time correcting the buildup of bad table manners instead of enjoying our family time together. Not fun!

The lesson is that family dinners are so crucial in developing civilized table habits. So now, regardless if my husband is traveling or not, I try to sit with my girls and make family dinners a priority. Not only to encourage good table manners but to show them that the dinner table is an important part of our family’s day and tradition.

Basic Table Manners We Can Expect of Young Children:

Wait until everyone is seated to begin eating. 

Chew with mouth closed. 

Napkin in lap.

Respectful posture.  

Please, thank you. (I taught my babies “please” and “thank you” in sign language and still use those signs to subtly remind them when they forget to use these words!)

Wait until everyone is finished to leave the table or ask to be excused. 

I have trained my girls to be very helpful with dinner prep, which reduces my stress level and makes dinner a more enjoyable time in our day. One way they help is taking turns to set a beautiful table. Not fancy, just beautiful with placemats and napkins and maybe fresh flowers. Young children can help by setting a basic table.

We have an easy printable that might be fun to do your own little table manners lesson this week. Maybe invite a grandparent or neighbor over to let them practice their gracious table manners!

How do instill gracious table manners in your children? Share below!


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3 thoughts on “Children’s Manners Series: Gracious Dining

  1. I love your focus on manners, Lee, and know you will have more great advice in your series. One important component of good manners (especially table manners) that tends to be overlooked is the importance of facilitating conversation at the table. Proper use of cutlery is important but so is participating in inclusive conversation. I’ve been to several graduation parties recently where teenage girls don’t engage with the person seated next to them because they aren’t close friends. The art of small talk is an underrated skill, in my opinion.

  2. An important one for me is to wait to be served, or pass food to everyone before eating. Kids and adults alike are guilty of reaching across the table to get their food.