Good table manners are an important skill for kids to be learn at an early age. From the lunchroom to the boardroom, kids will -- throughout their life -- have to eat in front of others, and that can forge a positive or a negative impression on others. It's preferable that the impression be positive, of course.
"The lessons learned in the home over a meal will then travel with the children to their friends' homes, where they will be more welcome and more likely to be invited back if they are polite, well-behaved and helpful at meals. Childhood manners also travel to school, and later on to dates and the marriage home," says Susanne M. Alexander, a character specialist and contributor to www.parentsconnect.com.
So what are the most important dinner table manners and etiquette for kids (and everyone!) to know?
Please and thank you
These two important phrases are the cornerstone of good manners, period, and extend to table manners. They show gratitude and appreciation instead of entitlement (and no one wants a child -- or an adult -- with an entitlement complex. It's a huge turnoff in life).
"When the family gathers together, it is an opportunity for the children to learn courtesy by saying 'please' or 'thank you' or waiting to speak until someone else is finished. Dinner-table interactions are a good time to learn respect as each person has the opportunity to share something about his or her day," says Alexander.
Across the board, etiquette experts agree that one of the most important dinner table manners to teach is to chew with your mouth closed. Encourage your children to do so by modeling it yourself, and even showing them how. After all, no one wants to see what's in there.
Speaking (without food)
Another important element of proper table manners that etiquette experts recommend is to never speak with your mouth full. This goes hand-in-hand with chewing with your mouth closed. At best, it's distracting to speak to someone who has food in their mouth -- and it can also be hard to understand people with food in their mouth. At worst, it's very unappealing, to say the least.
From where silverware should be placed to how it should be used, knowing your way around the place setting is important in manners and etiquette. "Knowing how to properly hold -- and use -- a fork and knife not only gives a child a sense of accomplishment and independence, it also allows a parent to better enjoy the meal. The parents can also be assured that their child will impress any adults they eat with," says Kathie B. Martin, APR, president of The Etiquette School of Birmingham. Martin also advises that it's important to know how to eat in a clean manner.
Above all, good table manners are about consideration -- recognizing that you aren't alone at the table and what you do affects others. "The most important lesson in good table etiquette is always being aware of your actions and understanding that you share the dining experience with every diner at the table," says etiquette trainer Stephanie Raimo of Manner House. "It is easy to put your napkin on your lap or sip from the proper water glass, but true manners start with consideration for others."
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