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Teaching Manners to Children - SmartMom

Teaching Manners to Children: When Should You Start?

Manners are an important social tool that children need to learn in order to be successful in school and life. No time is too early to start teaching manners to children, even if only by example.

Even as infants and toddlers, children pick up on how people in your family treat each other and whether there is courtesy and respect shown daily. When my daughter was three, I was trying to reinforce good behavior by thanking her when she did something well and “tank oo” became one of my son’s first words. No matter that he didn’t know what context to use it in yet, he learned, in time.

The time to be a good role model is inside the house, and out. Grumbling at other drivers or people in public is also noticed, and unfortunately, sometimes copied, too, to great embarrassment.

As toddlers and preschoolers, there a number of ways you can begin teaching manners to children.

Say Please

If you make a habit of using please when you ask your kids to do something, they will become more accustomed to hearing it and using it.

Say Thank You/You’re Welcome

Ditto. The more you use them, the more they will. This good behavior will help in disciplining your little ones as well.

Do Not Interrupt

Kids are pretty self-absorbed at early ages and expect you to respond to their needs immediately. When you are in a conversation with another adult, remind them not to interrupt (unless it is an emergency).

Then, when there is a break in the conversation (this shouldn’t be too long, if they are young, but long enough to get the point across) give them your attention and respond to them.

Do Not Touch Things that Don’t Belong to You

This can go for stores as well as other people’s houses. Teaching children to only handle what you have established belongs to you can save you some embarrassing moments and set some ground rules for purchases. I avoided many requests at the store and merchandise dragged off shelves by teaching my kids that those things didn’t belong to us and they needed to stay where they were.

Share and Take Turns

These skills are very important when your child enters social settings with other children. Preschool-age children notice, and complain, when other kids in their classes don’t take turns or share.


There are consequences when your child strays outside the guidelines that you are trying to enforce. Teaching your children to apologize when they make a mistake gives them pause to think about it and let’s the other person know that your child realizes they should have acted differently.

Stay calm and be prepared to repeat these lessons over and over again. It can be frustrating, but I have found that losing my temper negates the lesson and nothing is learned. Manners will come if you are diligent, but it takes time.

Once it becomes second nature to your kids, it is nice to see their interactions with people outside your home and even with you. The other night, before we even sat down to dinner, my son sang out, “thanks Mom for the great dinner!” It can kind of make your day.

Check out our roundup on the benefits of house chores for your little ones!

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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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