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09.12 - September

Children's health and parenting
'Pass the peas, please': Teaching mealtime manners

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By Karis Gabrielson, R.N., and Arleen Fitzgerald, L.I.C.S.W.
(Click for author bios in About us)

As the parents of any spaghetti-smeared toddler know, good table manners don't always come naturally.

Teaching kids how to behave during meals takes time — and lots of patience. Here are some hints to help little ones learn how to be good company at the table.

Start early. Even toddlers can begin to pick up the basics. Teach them to say "please" and "thank you," for example.

By age 4 or 5, most kids are ready to learn more. Sure, preschoolers can be wriggly and impatient. But, most children this age can grasp what's good mealtime behavior.

Explain why manners matter. Talk to your youngsters about why being polite is important. Point out that others enjoy well-behaved company when eating a meal.

Start small — and go from there. It's best to introduce children to just one or two rules at a time. You might start with using silverware properly and not talking with a mouthful of food.

Wait until a child has mastered those steps. Then, add one or two more. For example, show your child how to use a napkin. Next, you could work on asking politely for an item to be passed rather than reaching for it.

Focus on progress, not perfection. As much as you are able, keep discipline at the table to the minimum. Try not to harp on lapses in good manners. Give firm, but gentle, reminders instead.

Give rave reviews. Dish out plenty of praise for good behavior at the table. Be as specific as you can. For example: "You did so well asking nicely for another glass of water."

Encourage copycats. The example you set when you eat together can be your best teaching tool. Model the habits that you want to see — so your child can follow your lead.

Is it time for a refresher course?
Perhaps your children aren't so little anymore — but their manners could still use some polishing. How about trying a little positive peer pressure? Remind older kids that they'll be glad they have good table skills when they date or dine with others outside your home.

And, ask for older kids' full attention at the table — and give them yours. This means making meal times screen-free. When you turn off cellphones and the TV, you can tune into each other.

Nutritious and delicious
Discover more nutrition information and resources at®. Click "Health & Wellness." Type "nutrition" into the search box.
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Fast fact

A good-for-all tradition
Family meals are an ideal time to put good manners into practice. And, there are even more benefits. Research shows that families who regularly sit down to meals together tend to eat more healthfully. They get more fruits, veggies and fiber — and fewer calories — than people who don't eat as a family as often.