Table Manners for Kids: A Guide to Age Appropriate Recommendations

“Chew with your mouth closed! Elbows off the table!” Many parents are quoted at yelling this to one of their kids as they began to eat their meal.

Have you ever sat down to dinner with a friend and realized the person you are eating with has absolutely NO table manners?

He or she is sitting across from you chewing loudly with their mouth open, and you’re just staring at them. Trying not to give them the same speech you heard as a kid. How did they make it to adulthood with such horrible manners?

My best guess is that their parents failed to be consistent with these lessons. You don’t talk with food in your mouth or chew with your mouth open, you set your silverware down between bites, and keep your elbows off the table.

Did your parents teach you? How and when is it appropriate to begin teaching etiquette and manners to your children? You will have the answer to these typical questions by the end of the article.

Ages to Begin Teaching Our Children Table Manners

According to “Teach Your Kids Table Manners,” an article shared on the Scholastic website, you can start before the age of three with simple things like saying please and thank you.

This article breaks down age-appropriate guidelines or recommendations for teaching table manners to your kids.

Children Ages 3-5

  • Kids should be sitting still at the table for approximately 15 to 30 minutes for mealtime
  • You can teach them to wait to begin eating their food until all people are seated at the table and ready to eat.
  • Guide them to put their napkin in their lap when they aren’t using it.
  • Your child should also be learning to chew with his or her mouth closed.
  • Discourage your children from responding to food placed in front of him/her with words like “ew” or “yuck.”

Children Ages 6-7

  • Your child should be able to use a knife correctly. I would probably stick with a butter knife as opposed to a steak knife at this age! However, select the appropriate knife depending on your child’s maturity level, ability, and whats for dinner.
  • Explain to children that reacting to food at the table with a disgusted expression is not nice. This can hurt the feelings of the person who has prepared the meal.
  • If your child needs to remove a piece of food from his or her mouth because they do not like it, teach them to spit it into their napkin quietly, without making a scene. It’s likely to come up at some point, so it’s good to address it before they spit their food back out on a plate in front of everyone.
  • By this age, your child should thank the person who prepared their meal. *Bonus, instead of just saying thank you, they can offer to help clear the table!

Children Ages 8-10

  • By this time your child will likely have friends over now and then. They should be offering snacks or drinks to their guests!
  • Let them know they should always serve their guests first.
  • A great rule is to remove all electronics from the table. This includes the phone, iPad and keeping the TV turned off. You can teach your kids that mealtime is family time and a time to catch up on the day. And if they have a friend over, it’s time to have a conversation or play games with the other person and not ignore each other while they each play on their device. This will also help them later in life when they go on their first date or have an interview and need to pay attention to the person they are meeting with!
  • Children in this age group should be able to and understand that they are to serve themselves and then pass the serving bowl or plate to the next person.

How to Teach Table Manners

Observing others is one of the primary ways to teach table manners. As parents, especially if we want our children to have good table manners, it is essential to set a positive example for kids to follow.

For the younger ones, you may find yourself continually reminding them to practice proper manners. It may take some time but it will soon become a habit. And good manners are a good habit to have, for children and adults alike.

The Importance of Manners

My parents always said, “one day, you might be eating dinner with the President. You should show up knowing how to eat in public and with someone important.” Think about that for a second.

If you were to have dinner with your boss or anyone else you hold in high regard, would you be embarrassed? What if your kids were the one’s invited. Would you be nagging them at the table in front of this person out of fear of making a bad impression?

Start now, it’s not too early, and it’s never too late.

It’s Never Too Early to Model Table Manners

Ultimately, it’s never too early to begin teaching your little one etiquette at the table. Even though this skill is so intuitive as an adult, it’s not as a child.

Little did you know that all the nagging and modeling your parents did helped you understand how to navigate mealtimes with ease as an adult!

Thanks for reading, may I please be excused? (see what I did there?)