9 Top Table Manners For Kids You Must Teach Before They’re 6

By Paula McLaren •  Updated: 02/01/22 •  10 min read  •  Preschool » Preschooler Parenting Advice

Are you tired of…

Whilst all this is a part of parenting a young baby, it should not be a part of your life from 2 years onwards!

And that’s where teaching table manners will be your mealtime lifeline!

Whilst table manners for kids may seem very daunting to begin teaching… I promise you that with a bit of determination and understanding, you’ll have delightful mealtime mates joining you at the table in no time!

So why are table manners important?

How can we teach our children to follow them?

And what are the age-appropriate table manners we can expect our children to know?

Well… keep reading to find out!

Why Are Table Manners For Kids Important?

Teaching table manners to kids is a crucial part of their social development

As a society, we place huge importance on sharing food together and knowing how to do this in a respectful and socially acceptable way is an essential life skill!

Mealtimes are also hugely important because they are a time in the day when the family can come together to share their thoughts and feelings. 

Therefore, it is important that we show our children how to behave and understand good table manners, in order for them to be able to enjoy and embrace this all-important social activity.

You need to bear in mind that teaching children good table manners is a long process that requires patience and consistency over several years. (But you will get there, I promise!)

In the beginning, you will only be laying the foundations of table manners for kids and leading by example to your baby.

This includes saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and encouraging your baby to not throw food on the floor.

As they grow up, you will be able to introduce more complex social situations to build up their understanding of table manners.

Eventually, your aim is to teach them how to correctly use cutlery, have patience before eating and have the ability to observe and learn from others at the table.

So, what are the basic table manners every child should know by age 5?

9 Basic Table Manners Every Kid Should Know By Age 5 (Printable)

Of course, a baby, toddler and young child will have very different table manner abilities… 

However, you should aim to have the following 9 table manners established by your little one’s 5th birthday.

In my experience, these 9 primary table manners will lay the foundation for respectful and considerate eating for years to come.

They will also help to make mealtimes a fun time for everyone at the table and they will also help your little one feel grown up and a part of the action!

So, by the age of 5, your children should have masted these 9 basic table manners:

9 Table Manners For Kids Printable
  1. Sit properly in their chair 
  2. Sit still at the table 
  3. Not shout at the table or interrupt when others are speaking
  4. Take small pieces of food
  5. Not talk with their mouth full
  6. Know what food they can eat with their fingers and what food requires a spoon or fork
  7. Use a napkin
  8. Thank the cook for their meal
  9. Ask to be excused at the end of a meal

Some of these skills will take longer to learn than others but remember to be consistent when enforcing them. 

So those are my 9 basic table manners for kids to have established by age 5… 

However, what about all the age-specific table manners your little one needs to learn throughout this journey?

Well, here is a breakdown of what I think you should be expecting of your child as they grow.

Table Manners For 2 to 3 Year Olds

At this age, toddlers need clear and simple instructions.

Do not overwhelm them with rules, but make it clear what table behaviour is acceptable and what is not.

Table Manners For 3 to 4 Year Olds 

By 3-4 years, your toddler should be beginning to understand why we have table manners and why they are important.

You can also begin to introduce more complex manners such as waiting for everyone to be seated before eating and staying at the table until everyone has finished.

Table Manners For 4 to 5 Year Olds

And finally, by 5 years old, you and your little one will have, hopefully, laid the foundations of considerate table manners and are implementing them at every meal!

How Do You Teach Kids Table Manners?

Table manners are should not be hard to establish. You simply need to be consistent and stand your ground on what behaviour is acceptable and what is not during your family mealtimes.

For me, there are 8 tricks that will make teaching table manners for kids a much easier process!

They are:

8 Ways To Teach Kids Table Manners

1. Lead By Example

The best way to teach good table manners is to lead by example. 

You and the rest of the family are most your child’s best teachers. If they have had plenty of opportunities to watch you and the rest of the family behaving in a certain way when sharing a meal from an early age, they are far more likely to embrace your expectations for them to behave in the same way when they are old enough.

2. Be Consistent

Once you have decided what table manners are your top priority then stick with it!

Try not to send mixed messages and let some things go one day and then insist on them the next.

3. Be Patient

Losing your temper at mealtimes will NEVER end well. 

It is important to not let mealtimes turn into battlegrounds and learning good table manners is a slow process that takes time to master.

You should keep your eye on the end game by expecting your youngster to have mastered basic table manners by the time they are 5 years of age.

4. Set The Scene

Managing transitions from play to mealtimes can go a long way in helping your little one be more receptive to learning good table manners. 

If they are ready to sit down and eat and are in a calm state of mind you will definitely have more success.

Set the scene by giving a warning about the upcoming meal and get them into the habit of washing their hands and helping to lay the table before a meal.

5. Give Age-Appropriate Chores

Giving your little one age-appropriate chores when preparing for the meal and clearing away can also really help with creating a cooperative atmosphere at the table. 

It also stops the focus being on just how your little one eats and in turn this will make learning table manners less intimidating.

6. Don’t Shame Them

When teaching your little one table manners remember to NEVER shame them into doing better. 

Don’t compare or make them feel bad for not getting it right.

7. Praise Appropriately

Remember to praise and encourage but don’t make your little one feel like everyone is watching and judging them. 

8. Use Videos, Books and Toys To Help Teach Table Manners To Kids

There are loads of helpful videos on YouTube that will help to teach your kids about table manners in a fun and light-hearted way. So, if your child is struggling to understand table manners when you talk about them, try including a song or video to help them learn!

Here’s a great video from Fitzy Monster Show to get you going!

The Best Toys To Help Teach Table Manners To Kids

Books and toys are also a wonderful way of helping your children learn new skills and concepts through play. 

My favourite book for helping teach kids table manners is the Elizabeth Verdick book, Mealtime!

It is a simple little book that gently introduces your toddler to good table manners in a very approachable fashion. This book is an ideal tool that you can use to help your little one understand the concept and importance of good table manners.

Mealtime By Elizabeth Verdick (Toddler Tools)

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Toys and play-pretend sets are also brilliant at getting children to learn good table manners through the art of play.

This lovely dinner set from Melissa and Doug is the ideal toy set to give your little one lots of opportunities to practise their table layings skills and table manners in a fun way!

Melissa & Doug Restaurant Play Set (41 Pcs)

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On A Final Note…

Remember that mealtimes are hugely important to the whole family… 

They are a time when we can show each other how much we care about one another by listening and sharing and teaching your little one good table manners in a harmonious atmosphere will be a lot easier than in a chaotic stressful one. 

So, aim to make mealtimes as enjoyable as possible for everyone and remember that this is not a quick fix.

Your little one has a lot to learn and it will take lots of gentle, consistent age-appropriate reminders on the journey to good table manners!

I hope you enjoyed this post about table manners for kids. It is a subject that doesn’t get enough attention and I wanted to create a comprehensive resource to help parents understand what their little ones can achieve!

If you enjoyed this post, please share it around to help other parents and if you have any further questions about table manners for kids, drop me an email at [email protected] and ask away! I will be happy to help.

As always, thank you for reading and until next time, with love and support, Happy Parenting!

Paula McLaren

Paula McLaren - Norland Nurse NNEB RSH is the founder of Teething to Tantrums and has been in the childcare industry as a Norland Nanny since 1982. Since then, her mission has been to help parents become the best they can possibly be. And each year, she continues to help more families understand their child's development, the trials and joys of parenting and of course, how to care for their little ones.

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