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How to teach your toddler table manners

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Table manners for toddlers

If there is one lesson you have probably learned as a parent, it is to expect the most embarrassing moments to occur at the most inappropriate times. Mealtime is certainly no exception — but take heart, manners can be taught at a young age.

Family saying grace

Saying grace

Your toddler may or may not be familiar with the custom of saying grace. Explain to your child that other families may give thanks before a meal. It may be something simple like, "Lord, thank you for the food we are about to receive. Amen." Or it may be a song that is sung by all at the table. No matter how a family handles grace, anything new to a child can be intimidating. You can prepare your child to handle it like a pro by instructing him to follow what others are doing. He need not say anything, but by bowing his head and closing his eyes during grace, he is showing respect.

If you are having a child over for dinner and your family says grace, you should tell the child's parents ahead of time (unless, of course, they already know). They can then talk to their child about it, so she is not surprised and confused. Giving a parent the heads up is simply a matter of courtesy.

Gulp... drinks!

Toddlers love to assert their independence and are big advocates of the "I can do it myself" mentality. When it comes to drinks, there are a few etiquette dos and don'ts that should be enforced.

First, your child should not reach in front of or across others to get a drink. Rather, she should politely ask for a drink (remembering her please and thank you). If the juice container or pitcher is too heavy or awkward, she should use two hands to pour. One hand should hold the handle, while the other supports the side of the container. Remind your child that it is OK to ask for help when pouring a drink.

Slurping and gulping is quite unpleasant (and unappetizing) at the table. Remind your child to drink quietly and slowly. She should swallow any food in her mouth and wipe her lips with her napkin before taking a sip. Of course, if your toddler has something spicy or hot in her mouth, a quick sip is necessary and acceptable. As your child gets older and masters the art of pouring, she can begin to ask those to the right and left of her if they too would like a drink.

As your child gets older and masters these skills, you can incorporate more dining etiquette into his or her routine. Practice makes perfect... well, if not perfect, at least pleasantly pleasing to dine with!

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