The earlier you teach good manners at mealtime, the sooner they’ll pick them up.
Establish a mealtime routine
When it comes to teaching toddlers anything, consistency is key. This is why we suggest coming up with a little mealtime routine. This could include putting the toys away, switching off the television, washing their hands, and sitting down at the table.
This routine will help toddlers understand that mealtimes are important.
It’s also essential that you reinforce mealtimes as being important by switching off your phone or leaving it in another room. If you’re constantly on your phone at the table or some of your older children are, your toddler will pick up bad habits.
Encourage them to sit down to eat
Toddlers are usually full of energy and enjoy running around and exploring. Sitting down quietly for any period of time can therefore be a real challenge for them. However, it’s important for your child to sit down to eat their meals, not only because it’s polite but also better for their digestion.
Make a conscious effort to sit down at the table with your child while they eat or, even better, eat your dinner with them. Engage in conversation with them (if they can talk) or simply speak to them with encouraging words if they aren’t at the talking stage yet. By sitting with your child to eat, you will make mealtimes an enjoyable time for them, therefore helping to encourage positive behaviour and good manners.
Tell them what you expect of them
It’s good to teach children to feed themselves nicely. Make sure they know what’s expected of them.
It helps toddlers to know what they need to do. At mealtimes, it’s important to reinforce what you’d like them to do, to help them develop good habits. This may include trying a little bit of everything on the plate, saying please and thank you (if they can talk), and using their cutlery, rather than just their hands.
Make sure you verbally reward them for their good behaviour. Children like to do things that get them more attention, so make sure you make a conscious effort to praise them if they have shown good manners at the dinner table.
Be in agreement about the rules
It’s important that you and your partner, as well as any older children, all understand the mealtime rules and are in full agreement. If your partner thinks the rules are too stuffy and undermine you, it is not going to give the right impression to your little one – the same goes for your other children.
Make sure everyone is aware of the importance of teaching your toddler good manners at mealtimes and explain that it will make going out for dinner at restaurants far easier and enjoyable for everyone in the future!
Here are some mealtime rules you may want to consider using:
· Saying please and thank you
· No licking the knife
· No leaning back on a chair’s hind legs
· No speaking with food in your mouth
· Don’t put more in your mouth than you can chew
· No banging cutlery
· No throwing or playing with food
· Ask politely to be excused from the table
Of course, your little one isn’t going to understand all of these rules at once, especially if you are starting your mealtime manner training early. However, it’s good to keep reinforcing the rules and ensuring other family members are following them to teach your toddler good manners at mealtimes.
The key thing to try and remember is to enjoy these mealtimes together, enjoy the cleaning up, because one day they will want to be eating their meals in their bedroom, out with their mates or in front of the TV when you give into them after they say 'all my friends have their dinner in front of the TV - it's so unfair!'
(Photo credit: Home photo of Megan's daughter)