Tuesday Tips: Encouraging good table manners

Table manners

When I was little, my mom would occasionally organise at-home tea parties around the kitchen table for me and my four siblings. We brought out the fancy tea set with tea cups and saucers, we often got dressed up in our fanciest clothes and came to the table looking very proper, and my mom would joke that the Queen might very well show up to our tea party so we had to be on our very best behaviour. She taught us to sit still in our chairs, put our napkins on our laps, use our utensils properly, say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, to offer treats to others before taking one for yourself, to sit at the table until everyone is finished, etc. Because it was such a fun and special thing to do, we all (even my rambunctious brothers!) got really into the idea of using our best ‘tea party manners’ at the table. Little did we know that my mom was teaching us table manners (and that the Queen of England was never going to show up to our house in small-town America).

Then, whenever my parents would take us all out to dinner at a restaurant or at a friend’s house, she would brief us beforehand, asking us to use our best ‘tea party manners’. We knew exactly what she meant when she said this because we had practiced it.

Isn’t that smart?! We may not have always been perfectly behaved at the dinner table and she didn’t always enforce perfect manners at every meal, but when she really needed us to behave, we knew what to do.

I’ll admit to being a bit of a stickler about table manners now that I’m a mother. I think it’s important for kids to learn how to sit properly through a meal — to know that they can’t get out of their seats, they’re not allowed toys or other distractions, and that they have to behave and be respectful at the table. I find that establishing these rules at home makes it easier to go out to restaurants with your kids and means that mealtimes are generally more enjoyable for everyone.

Do you have any tips or tricks for encouraging good table manners? I’m thinking I might copy my mom’s technique and start hosting the occasional tea party for my kids…

Courtney xx


Comments (32)

May 12, 2015

I love the tea party idea that’s so lovely! I must admit that like you, I’m a bit of a stickler for good table manners. I think always eating as a family helps to encourage good manners as children really do learn by example.

May 12, 2015

what a great topic! Thank you for bringing this up! I’m struggling with this because I’m a European living in the States. My American hubby was raised with different table manners and it’s important for me that my boys (6) know how to eat continental-style. They see the worst of the worst in school. So it’s hard when my work is made harder because the boys don’t even see appropriate stuff in restaurants.

Look forward to seeing other comments! And happy birthday to Ivy tomorrow!

May 12, 2015

Your mom is a genius! 🙂

Though I’m not a mom yet, I often watch the children of friends. A while ago I introduced the “high and low” ritual to them and it made dinner so much more enjoyable! Everybody talks about his or her “high” and “low” moment of the day while the rest of us listens quietly. We then ask why something was so good or bad and talk about it.
The kids are asking for this ritual every night I’m with them and I think it’s a great way to reflect on the day, get to know each other better and learn to listen carefully.
Also it is really fun! 🙂


Courtney in London
May 12, 2015

I love this idea!
My mom also used to go around the table asking each of us to tell one thing we learned that day. It was a good way of giving each of us a platform to talk about our day, and try to remember what we learned. : )
I remember being 16 and being so annoyed that we had to wait so long for my 6-year-old brother to remember something he had learned! But I do think it was a really lovely nightly ritual.
I wish you lived closer so you could come watch MY children!! 🙂 xxx

May 13, 2015

I would LOVE to watch your children. Oh that would be fun!

May 12, 2015

such a great idea! My 4 year old daughter has lovely table manners but my 2 year old son is a nightmare at the moment. Just getting him to sit in his seat can be a chore. We always eat at the table, no tv, toys etc but he just doesn’t seem to get it. We now avoid going out for dinner as it can become a stressful event that most recently has ended in tears and tantrums. Any advice welcomed! X

Courtney in London
May 12, 2015

Hi Laura,
My advice would be just to stick with it. He will learn eventually that he has to sit still. (As with other parenting obstacles, I always find that being consistent is key.) I also agree with what Mel said about distraction. If you can just try to distract him enough to keep him sitting still.
I do think it’s an important thing to learn – that you can’t get up from the table – and it will make things much easier in the future once he starts to understand it.
Good luck! x

May 12, 2015

table manner are really important to my husband and me, and no dinner passes that we don’t remind our children about one thing or another. What we sometimes do is that we take each others hands so that we form a circle and say a little rhyme wishing each other a good meal. It gives the dinner a good start and brings a positive atmosphere and calms everyone down and ready to appreciate the food. In the end, teaching your children by good example is what works best, I guess, and making it clear how important this is to you and that having good table manners is something they can be proud of!

Courtney in London
May 12, 2015

I love this Nina! xx

May 12, 2015

I love the tea party idea. Such a smart idea but one that has also left a lovely memory.
This works for mine. I would suggest getting them used to adult (looking) cutlery early on, breakfast forks can be used as dinner forks as they are smallish and give a toddler a dull but real dinner knife. The same for the dining plate, just use a dessert plate. I don’t think plastic is necessary once they are 2+, they want to feel grown up and often act accordingly if treated with a bit of ‘respect’. I often use a dining chair with a cushion instead of a high chair and try to eat as a family rather than at staggered times as the little ones will follow the lead of the older children and adults. I also think it is important to include children in the dinner conversations, even if they are 2. I think it is all about distraction.

May 12, 2015

Oh, I love that idea! My girls would enjoy it too. So, this may go a bit against table manners, but we have a family ritual that our eldest started last year. We go around the table and play a sort of charades with our hands to act out something fun (or not so fun) that we did that day. No talking, just simple hand gestures (swinging, reading, etc) My husband and I usually motion that we were feverishly typing at work or falling asleep in front of a computer screen to get them laughing. It just sets the mood — really light-hearted and fun! It helps to get them engaged and open up about their days. It also helps to get the silliness out early so they are focused and use good table manners throughout the meal. I’m a huge stickler when it comes to table manners too!

May 12, 2015

Table manner are hilariously on the French pre-school curriculum and so they should be!
I think you are absolutely right about the fact that kids with good manners are so much easier to take out to restaurants and friends. It actually makes life so much easier for the kids too! The are more comfortable as they know what to do and how to behave, the parents are relaxed and everyone is a winner.

May 12, 2015

Just have dinner at home. Every night. With your kids. At the dinner table. Sets them up for table etiquette.

May 12, 2015

I live in the States, and grew up here as well. I think it comes down to expectations and leading by example like the others have commented above. My three boys, with very different personalities and energy levels, can all sit at the table and carry on a conversation, and we have taught them along the way how to place the napkin on their lap, which fork to use etc. When we sit down together at home, we start our meal with a prayer, and go around the table and ask each person if they would like to add a prayer or thought for someone or something, and sometimes we share what we are thankful for. And when we go out, the only thing we usually bring with us, for my 4yo, is a notepad & pencils for drawing while we wait for the meal to be served.

May 12, 2015

Oh I love this, brings back such fond memories of my childhood. I would visit my grandmother after school on Tuesday’s and she was old and eccentric and behaved just like the queen mother, dressing in the hat and everything!!! And we would have formal dinner – streams of cutlery on either side of the plate… it was always the same: for starters, peas soup from the can; main, steamed chicken and definitely-not-crispy roast potatoes… and desert jelly and custard. Followed by tea from her tea-set. Then the afternoon was spent sticking Christmas cards from the previous year into scrapbooks, with sloppy glue she made on the stove top… Lessons were learned and such fond memories. thank you for the little trip down memory lane!!!

Otherwise we have quite a few food rules in our home, I never set out to have them, but they slowly emerged as the family changes. Rules change and evolve as our kids grow older. Meal time plays a very important role in the dynamic and togetherness of our family…

May 12, 2015

What would you do if a child you had over for a play date was misbehaving at the table, not your own children? I.e. Getting up from table and then leaving the room completely without finishing dinner or asking to leave table etc but your children are still at the table? It’s happened to us recently and we didn’t do anything! It was hard to get our kids to then stay at the table and finish dinner! He is only 4. Any tips would be much appreciated. Thankyou 🙂

Neha Devgon
May 14, 2015

Hi Lucie- something very similar happened to us recently too. I have a 2 year old who can sit through a meal easily with some encouragement and conversation. But we had a 3.5 year old visiting for a play date and dinner. His mom chased him around and fed him dinner while he was playing with my daughters toys all over the house. My daughter sat for 10 minutes but refused to eat at the table that evening. That night I decided not to have that kid over for a playdate that revolved around a meal. It’s not worth it to put yourself in a situation like that again.

May 12, 2015

Growing up in the States, my parents weren’t super strict but I think still instilled some great manners for us kids. My father wouldn’t let us keep our elbows on the table, and when we weren’t looking, he would slap his hand on the table to scare us and get us to sit properly. This was the same with posture – no sitting on our feet at the table; that was un-ladylike. We also had to ask to be excused before leaving the table. Now that I’m older, I am so much more conscious of my behavior at the table and am thankful for their teaching me good manners!

May 13, 2015

I highly recommend the Tripp trapp chair by stokke from a young age. Because they are always at the table, they learn to follow the unspoken rules of sitting to eat. I also find some nice background music helps to set the mood.

Glad to see family dinners are still happening these days!

May 13, 2015

The great thing about teaching children manners is it forces you to be mindful of how you also speak and react to others. Being polite to sales people and those in authority, our kids are observing it all.

May 13, 2015

you’re so right! That’s the one thing I always remember with my son. He’ll learn his manners from me by the example I set.

May 13, 2015

That’s a beautiful idea! I wonder if it would work with one child?!? Interestingly I have been wondering how to navigate the table manners matter as my husband has very different ways of doing things to me (he is French and I am English, there are a surprising number of differences!)! I wonder which manners our son will adopt?

May 13, 2015

Hi, I love this idea. We normally eat in the kitchen and often at different times due tom lungs a do rocks schedules but make sure that we always have a special weekend dinner where the kids prepare the table. They sometimes write a ‘set’ menu, design table numbers, name tags and logos! During this dinner time we try hard to enforce good manners and encourage family talking time.
I would be interested to knows your thoughts on pudding. Do the kids have to eat all their meal to get a pudding? It’s alway an issue for us! Do they have a drink with their meal? Squash or water?

May 13, 2015

That was meant to read…. Due to clubs and work schedules

May 13, 2015

Your mom really gave you a good example! My parents weren’t really that strict in table manners, especially at home. When my dad was young he and his siblings (8) had to eat in turns, because there was ‘t just enough space at the table. When I was young we just started to eat when we had our plate, then took desert ourselves and my dad just started to do the dishes when my mom wasn’t even finished (also because he had to go away). I’ve never been taught how to use my utensils properly. When I was 11 I stayed at a friends house for two weeks. I had to learn it myself, because I was really aware that I was suposed to behave as a guest!
Now I’m a mother myself I think a lot about how I’ve been raised myself. My parents did a great job, but they failed in this kind of things. They were more like ‘everybody must be themselves’ but I think teaching manners has nothing to do with having no respect for eachother.
I have three little children (1, 2 and just 4) and having dinner most of the time without my husband. So it’s not always easy to have good table manners, especially starting at the same time. But that will come!

Irene Kemp
May 13, 2015

Hi Courtney,
What a great article. A tea party, how fun. I will be completely honest and say l don’t always enjoy every meal time as l feel l am some times too strict with manners. However l have had two incidents which have made me have a rethink.
During a meal at a restaurant our waiter came round and whilst all the adults were chatting he placed some olives on the table and my son said ‘Thank you for these’!! How to show us all up. When we finished our meal my son looked directly at the waiter and said ‘Thank you so much for my food it was very lovely’, oh my goodness, l don’t often get the chance to bask but l kicked my husband from under the table and thought to myself, all the effort, somethings worked!! I was immensely proud of him.

The second incident came when he had a play date recently and another mother was there that l didn’t know and after we had dinner she said to me ‘you must be very proud, your son is such a lovely, polite young boy’. it was so lovely as l think as mothers we try so had and sometimes in the day to day of life we don’t realise that those little things do work and do sink in and all those reminders of ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ play out .
At meal times we also have a jar on the table with questions in it called the conversation jar and after we have gone round the table and told each other the best part of the day we open the jar. I have noticed it has encouraged my son to be more engaged whilst we have dinner and l feel/hope we are creating some special memories along the way!

May 13, 2015

Thank you for your comment !
I’m.curious to know, what questions are in the jar?

May 13, 2015

Great article and lovely idea!! I’m just starting to get my little boys to sit still at restaurants. BUT it’s a lot of pressure to think that toddlers have the ability to do this. Stares from other diners are very stressful. My three year old boy is just beginning to be able to sit and eat. My two year old boy will sit until he’s done eating, then FORGET IT! So don’t be discouraged moms. This sounds like a fun technique and something to try for sure! Your littles will get it eventually. Thanks for all the other fun ideas too in the comments. I love the conversation jar at the table!!
xo t

Emma Shaw
May 13, 2015

Dear Courtney

What a fabulous post and previous two posts’ that you’ve written on the same topic that i hadn’t read. I couldn’t agree more with what you feel and say and the positive approach you have for trying to turn what you find hard in to something better and more polite. Simply inspirational. Love, love, love it.

Thank you so much for your lovely blog and pics, don’t stop!

Courtney in London
May 14, 2015

I completely agree about eating as a family! Sitting down around a table all together is so important, not just for encouraging good table manners, but to encourage how to socialise with one another, wait your turn to speak at the table, share the food, ask each other questions and be present with one another. I also love all the suggestions here for things to ask and do while you’re sitting down together. Love the idea of the conversation jar!
Thank you, everyone, for your comments! xx

May 14, 2015

Oh Courtney, this made me laugh, what a lovely idea and a perfect ‘undercover’ way to teaching good manners!
My son will be two in July, he’s my first and I’m not quite sure what I can expect of him at that age in terms of sitting still / good behaviour? He’s quite good at home but in public just wants to explore and ‘meet and greet’ the whole restaurant…the Queen would be back in her Land Rover before we could even say ‘cream tea’!!! Any guidance regarding age-related behaviour would be much appreciated. Xx

May 23, 2015

I used to tell my daughters to eat like ballerinas and they would sit upright and even point their toes. I also tell them we are practicing, so they can have dinner with the Queen one day. They love that. I find myself say the same things over and over again (“This is not a hiking trip!”) and by now it is sinking in. If I say “ready to dine with the Queen!”, they really pull it off.

They pay a lot of attention to how others eat and are quite shocked by the behaviours of some children and teachers at school (licking their knifes etc.). They feel like experts on table manners and throw knowing glances at me if we have guests, who don’t live up to their expectations. They are turning into snobs! 😉

Leave a Comment