How to instill good table manners in a toddler

Kids are known for many things, but having good table manners isn’t one of them. Whether it’s refusing to eat, throwing food or wanting to get up moments after they’ve sat down, kids have some of the most appalling manners. If you kicked up a stink because your peas were touching your potatoes, you wouldn’t get away with it — you’d probably be asked to leave the restaurant. In that case, your little monster shouldn’t get away with it, even if it is just at your kitchen table. Teaching the rules of the dinner table isn’t going to happen in one sitting. Little does your kid know it but teaching them not to bang cutlery on the table is going to save them from a life full of faux pas. Now, let’s get started.

Lower your expectations

When was the last time you told your toddler not to do something and they did it again anyway? Yep, thought so. Short-term memory isn’t their forte. Think of teaching table manners as a slow-burner: it starts around two and gets mastered around five years old. Keep reminding them of the behaviour you expect (as much as you’re seething that they just don’t listen). You might feel like a broken record as you beg ‘food stays on the plate, please!’ but we assure you, one day, it’ll just “click”. Sadly, it usually only clicks when they realise they’re missing out on things i.e. dessert.

Expect mess, at first

The “flinging food on the floor” is a toddler right of passage. And while it will make you want to tear your hair out, don’t let it. Don’t allow whole plates of food to hit the floor either. Hand them one piece of food at a time and when they eat it, reward them with another.

Don’t make them sit for too long

Once your kid is walking, you’ll quickly realise they can’t stay in one place for longer than a few minutes. Ants in their pants, much? So, keep mealtimes short. You’ve got around 10 minutes to set the dining standard; use your time wisely. Use the ‘one bite’ rule to make sure everyone around the table tries a bit of each food on their plate.

Monkey see, monkey do

Kids can be the ultimate copycats — which is almost always motivated by the fear of missing out on something fun or tasty. Don’t let them tell you otherwise. Use imitation to your advantage in teaching ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. And always be on your best behaviour. Don’t let them catch you out speaking with your mouth full or digging in before everyone else has their food. They never miss a trick!