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Table manners are a tricky area for young families - you want your child to eat nutritiously whilst eating slowly enough to avoid gobbling and causing indigestion but fast enough to get on with the day! You want meals to be a happy experience for everyone and for their manners to be good: eating with mouth closed, not tallking when chewing, no rude comments about the size, look or taste of the food and 'please' and 'thank you' are welcome too!
But, don't be too hard on the children! They learn from example, so the first thing to do is show them (not tell them!) how to eat a meal properly. Start by making sure the children (even toddlers) sit throughout the duration of the meal. Make their time at the table as short as possible, so call them when their food is served and has cooled enough to eat.
Encourage them to stay at the table while you all eat. Of course, when you consider it appropriate they can get down, but try and establish the idea that you all stay at the table together for the meal. Don't expect too much though. A toddler is doing well if they don't throw food, so don't expect correct utensil use at age two!
Teach all toddlers and children to wash hands before eating. This is a good way to signify the beginning of the meal and is hygenic even if your child is beyond finger food. When they do mess around, try not to get angry, just explain in a calm voice what they are doing wrong.
Try to use 'please' and 'thank you' yourself! It's as easy for adults to forget but if the little ones see you saying it they will too! And, there's nothing nicer than a proper 'thank you' to the chef at the end of the meal! Especially encourage it when you're visiting friends and you're bound to be invited back!
The result, hopefully, is calmer and easier meals for you all! The earlier you start introducing good manners, the better the children will adopt the behaviour and do it without trying. Remember, mealtimes make for the most wonderful family occasions...every single day!