Too Early for Table Manners?
Good manners aren’t confined to castle inhabitants. They can be taught to even the littlest prince or princess right at home. These poised pointers will show you how and when to tackle table manners with your baby.
Start with Low (Very Low) Expectations
Once your baby is able to sit in a high chair, make it a point to eat at least one meal together every day — but don’t expect things to go smoothly. If she throws her sippy cup over the side, take it in stride. If she dumps her bowl over the side, get out the mop. Expect at least one of these snafus to happen, per meal, and just be pleasantly surprised if it doesn’t.
Monkey See, Monkey Do
Your little sponge is always looking to you (and the rest of the family) for what to do next. If you all say grace before a meal, those pudgy little hands will be clasped together before you know it. If your table’s nightly routine includes a lot of burps, belches and other unsavory dining practices, expect the little guy to follow suit.
One Step At a Time
Short of inviting Emily Post to your next meal, the simplest way to teach manners is focusing on one little thing at a time. A spoon, for example, can become a tool to master over the course of a week. Let your baby hold it himself and try a few bites every meal. But for the sake of time (and sanity) help him finish up yourself.
Just Try a Napkin
Sticking to the theme of rock-bottom expectations, teach your older baby or toddler one advanced trick each week. And start off with a napkin. From about the age of one, nearly any child can put a napkin on her lap. But the best part will be watching her delicately dab her mouth and wipe those sticky hands after the meal’s done.
Eat in Courses
It sounds fancy but it’s really a matter of triage. Let your little one eat a portion of the meal with his fingers (green peas, for example, lend themselves to being tossed back one by one), but buckle down and use a spoon for the applesauce. This trick may also give you a chance to eat a couple of bites yourself.
Start a Conversation
One of the most pleasurable aspects of a civilized meal is the chit-chat that happens along the way. Talk to your spouse — yep this means turning off the TV — and show the kiddo how it’s done. But don’t forget to include her, too. Even asking rhetorical questions to those who happen to be in high chairs is a great way to pull them in.
Turn a Blind Eye
This is a nice way of saying that it’s okay to ignore naughty behavior at the table sometimes. If your toddler starts acting up, say, shouting something like, “Here ye, here ye, this tastes like pee pee!” don’t even nod in his direction. Just carry on with your own meal so he’s not encouraged by your attention.
Bibs Are the Best
Whatever you do, don’t give up bibs in the name of etiquette. Whether plastic, fabric, with a pocket in front or flat, let those little beauties do their job.
Ending on a Civilized Note
Even if it’s been a yogurt-for-dinner kind of night with your toddler, she can still finish a meal with a bit of style. Before she’s released from the wonderful confines of that 5-point highchair harness, teach her to thank you for the meal and ask, “May I please be excused?” It’s a surprisingly easy script with surprisingly satisfying results.
Clear the Table
Anyone who can walk without wobbling can also take his plate or cup from the table into the kitchen after breakfast, lunch or dinner — and preferably all three! Remove utensils to make this job simpler and save yourself a bit of mopping. At least for now…