How to Teach Table Manners for Children

How to Teach Table Manners for Children

Maybe it’s just me, but whenever my kids and I go out to eat and someone, whether it is another patron or our waitress, compliments me on how well the kids are behaving, I puff up a little. Not with arrogance, of course, but with pride. I love that my kids all have good manners- even my two year old!

Manners Are a Lost Art

It’s kind of sad, but it seems like kids with good manners are hard to find these days. It hurts my heart a bit to see children that are absolutely out of control in restaurants and the parents just sigh and give an apologetic smile that says “Kids… what can you do, right?” It makes me sad. Granted, I don’t live with these families and I don’t know their own personal story or situation, but it still makes me sad. I tend to get on a bit of a soapbox when it comes to good manners but my kids know their boundaries. They’re not always perfect. They are kids, after all. But more times than not, they know how to behave and for that I’m eternally grateful. There are a couple of keys that I’ve learned when teaching children table manners that seem to help make the lessons stick in their busy little brains. These are the cornerstones that I often return to when we all get a little lax and need a good reminder to get back on track.

Bad Behavior Has Consequences

In our house, going out to eat is a privilege, not a right. We have plenty of peanut butter and jelly at home if you can’t behave. If any of the kids get belligerent, disrespectful or outright defiant, the very next time we go out to eat, that child does not get to go. They usually get a babysitter and some quiet time at home. All of our kids are fairly social so this typically gets their attention. That and they just love to eat out. Watching their siblings go out without them and enjoy themselves is hard but it drives home the lesson that the privilege of dining out is not to be abused.

Share the Compliments

Whenever anyone gives us a compliment about the kids, we try to make sure that the kids know about it. Often, we do it while the person is still standing there so that they can hear the kids say thank you. In the moment, I will point out when one of the kids is doing something well during the meal. I’ll tell my son that he’s doing a good job holding his fork or that my daughter acted just right when she passed the salad bowl. It’s easy to reinforce the good behavior as it’s happening and it also makes the other kids pay attention to their own behavior because they want me to compliment them too. Conversely, when we are out and we notice that another family has well behaved children, we compliment them too and again, it’s often in front of the kids. They see that we appreciate it everywhere and that we aren’t living in a bubble.

Build on the Victories

When our kids are well behaved at a family dinner, we can look at larger and more upscale locations to eat. And if that works well, we can go another step up. The kids think it is a treat to dress up and go to fancy dinners and since those are only every once in a while, they know that it’s something special. When we do things like this, we help connect the dots for them. We tell them “because you guys have been so great at other restaurants, we’re ready to let you try out this fancy one.” They feel a little more grown up for a day and they can see that they have earned the privilege to try something exciting for an evening.

Model What You Want

I cannot tell my children to behave at the table, use proper cutlery or put the napkin on their lap before the food falls if I’m not doing it myself. It just doesn’t feel right. I’m very conscious of my own manners when we are out and I model the type of behavior they should be demonstrating from my own seat. This is a huge part of how to teach table manners for children. I realize that I have a high standard when it comes to my kids and their manners but every time I get a compliment from a stranger, I know we’re on the right track. It has been something that I’ve invested a lot of time and energy into, but it has been well worth it. And I think that the kids would agree.


What is one thing you’re FOR SURE teaching your kids? I’m teaching my son basic manners, a lot of people I know lack that and I will not let my son grow up thinking that’s ok.

We just got standard visitation of my four-year-old stepdaughter. She has very bad manners and is just flat out rude. Her mom doesn’t make her say please and thank you. We are trying to break her out of that bad habit but she doesn’t listen very well. Any ideas?

My daughter is 2 and has started the “I want” phase. It’s driving me nuts! How can I deter her from it? We are all about manners and lately they have gone out the window.

So I have heard from tons of parents out there that terrible twos are bad but nothing tops three! No manners, not listening, bully and worst of all potty training regression…

Me and my husband have a month on month off custody over our LO. When he leaves us it seems like his speech and manners are improving but by the time we get him back its hard to understand him and he wants to whine over everything little thing that happens. Any advice?

My fiancé and I are struggling on keeping his 3 minis in line when they come to our house every other weekend. They all 3 have potty mouths and act like animals. Sorry, it’s the truth. No manners or respect. He feels helpless…

Every time my daughter is in trouble she says I’m so so sorry mom in the cutest voice. She is so respectful I hope it stays that way…

What age did you moms start teaching table manners/ eating behaviors? Am I out of line to make my 21 mo. old niece be still while she’s eating?

Most of the mama’s here know I have been having a hard time with my 10 year old daughter for a while now…
Yesterday we had a breakthrough…


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About Angela Moore

I am a 33 year old mother of three living in NE Ohio with my family. The only thing I love more than my family are words... reading them, writing them, devouring them. You can find me sitting at a laptop by day, exploring the worlds of SEO, Social Media and the written word. By night, I am most likely going to be sitting with my kids, knitting up something for a friend and watching sports or one of my shows on TV. You can find me on Twitter and Google +.