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3 min read

As parents, we like to prioritize. 

Getting your toddler to eat well, eat the rainbow, and tryhealthy foods typically ranks above teaching table manners, and that’s ok! Mess-making and food experimentation is part of the process. It’s better for your tot to develop positive associations withhealthy foods, then be focused on “proper etiquette.”

That said, there are 5 simple manners you can begin slowly teaching your toddler while still encouraging and growinghealthy food habits. 

5 Simple Teachable Table Manners

1. Wash Up

A simple, but very important pre-meal routine. Washing hands is something most toddlers already enjoy, so it’s easier to incorporate it at mealtime. Little rhymes are always a fun way to help children understand new concepts, like why washing hands before eating is important.Healthy hands forhealthy foods, your food is clean so your hands should be too!

2. More, Please & Thank You

Even before your little one is able to verbalize, you can begin teaching baby sign language for ‘more,’ ‘please,’ and ‘thank you.’ These three simple words help your child begin learning how to make appropriate requests, not only for foods, but for everyday wants and needs.

3. Sit for Mealtime

This one is a bit more difficult especially for a tot who is on-the-go, but there are good reasons to begin encouraging sitting for mealtime. Toddlers who sit for meals often eat more of what’s offered, and are less likely to snack throughout the day. It’s also safer for toddlers to stay seated while eating as this helps avoid a choking accident. 

Don't expect your toddler to sit still for longer than a few minutes – up to 10 minutes max. You can set a large timer where she can clearly see the time counting down. Start with small increments of time and gradually increase the amount of time you ask your child to stay at the table. Also give her something to do while she waits to be excused, such as quietly singing a song, drawing a picture, or counting all of the forks at the table.

4. Use a Napkin

The first place toddlers most likely go to wipe their mouths is on your shirt, their shirt, or someone’s sleeve. 

Teaching a child to begin consistently using a napkin is tough. It’s going to take a lot of repetition, and a lot of reinforcement. That’s whyit’s best to begin by simply having a napkin on your toddler’s tray or at the table next to her. When you see her go for the sleeve, just say, “Napkin, please!” Don’t expect successful results right away. You can anticipate washing a lot of messy clothes for a long time, but repetition is what will eventually make this manner stick.

5. Chewing With Mouth Closed 

Like sitting at the table, encouraging good chewing habits is also important for safe eating. So if your toddler thinks talking with a mouth full of food is silly, this is one manner you’re definitely going to want to work on right away. 


Telling your toddler why we chew with our mouths closed, and setting expectations that everyone chew with mouths closed, makes it easier for children to follow this new rule.

Being Patient with Your Toddler is Key

As children grow, more is required of them at the table, but that doesn’t mean you should expect perfect etiquette every time. It’s more likely your child will display certain manners and forget others from time to time, so be patient, and be consistent.

  • Investigate persistent misbehavior (perhaps your toddler is trying to tell you something by displaying poor manners. She’s full? Something is upsetting her tummy?)
  • Offer gentle reminders (repetition is key)
  • Set realistic expectations (based on age) 
  • Model, model, model manners
  • Praise good manners

Sources:

-Tips for helping your toddler learn good table manners

-How to Teach Your Child to Chew with Their Mouth Closed

-Teach Your Kids Table Manners


If you liked this NurturMe article, check out these other blog articles:

-3 Tips to Dealing with Your Picky Eater

-Toddler Snack Time Tips That Actually Work

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