Teaching a child to be polite at the dinner table is like teaching a chihuahua to skateboard: It doesn’t exactly come naturally, but with enough practice, it can be done. Here, we share a dozen polite pointers for teaching table manners to your littlest eaters.

 

Sit up straight and still

Show kids how slouching with your elbows on the table makes it look like you’re bored instead of interested in the dinner conversation. If your kid tends to squirm and/or hug their knees, grab a bathroom stepstool to use as a footrest to help them sit calmly. A footrest can also help keep your child’s lap flat so their napkin doesn’t keep falling off. Sitting still is a tall order, so keep your expectations realistic; 15 or 20 minutes is the limit for most kids under six.

 

Put your napkin on your lap — and actually use it

Teach your child to wipe their mouth and hands on their napkin, not their sleeve or pants. If you use disposable napkins at home, let them know it is actually okay to mess up cloth napkins at someone else’s house or a restaurant.

 

No toys, books or devices at table

Yes, this means you too. Your boss/best friend/dog walker can wait till after you finish eating for a reply to their text.

 

Wait for everyone to be seated before you start

Advanced level: At someone else’s house, tell your kids to wait for the host to start eating before they do.

 

Show respect to the cook

Tell your kids to say “No, thank you” (instead of “GROSS!”) if they don’t want something. And don’t forget to have your kids thank the person who made dinner.

Say please and thank you 

“Please” and “thank you” are easy to reinforce: Just don’t start to grant the request (pass the rolls, say) until you get a “please,” and don’t finish it (hand it over) until you hear “Thank you.”  

 

Use your fork, not your fingers

Just keep in mind that sometimes kids genuinely don’t know what’s a finger food and what’s not. Teach yours to ask if they’re not sure.

 

Chew with your mouth closed

And, conversely, don’t talk with your mouth full. As part of the lesson, you can even do a ilttle demo for them so they can see how yucky it looks.

 

Don’t play with your food

In other words, no slurping your soup, no blowing bubbles with your straw, no sculpting your mashed potatoes into a rendition of your sister’s head. Teach your kids that food’s (surprise!) for eating.

 

No eating straight out of the serving bowl or drinking out of the milk carton

Explain that it’s more sanitary (and less gross) that way.

 

Politely ask for whatever you want to be passed rather than reaching across the table to get it

This includes being patient enough to wait for a break in conversation, so expect this one to take some time to master.

 

Don’t leave the table until everyone is done eating — and then ask to be excused

Dinnertime is a great opportunity for kids to learn self-control, the art of conversation, and not to rush through a meal. Bonus: When everyone finishes at the same time, everyone can pitch in to clear their plates, put milk and food away, and wipe down the table. (Chores are more manageable — and fun! — when they’re done together.)

 

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