When was the last time you ate out with your toddler? If you answer with a ‘never’, you aren’t the only one. For many new parents, eating out with their young child is a foreign and impossible notion. Why eat out when mealtimes with a toddler at home are already stressful enough, right?
Mind their P’s & Q’s
If you are a new parent, trying to coax your toddler into finishing their vegetables (and failing miserably), picking bits of spaghetti off the dining room walls, removing crumbs from their hair and wiping mashed peas off the carpet are all part and parcel of your mealtime experience. But as nightmarish as they may be, these mealtime misadventures can be tackled by introducing your tot to proper table manners.
The thing is you know exactly what your child should and shouldn’t be doing at the dining table (no chewing with their mouth open, always say ‘thank you’, ‘please’ and ‘excuse me’, no elbows on the table, etc) but teaching them is the problem!
Now, instilling good table manners in your toddler may seem an incredible feat but rest assured, it can be done. Be patient with them – after all, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Here are some suggestions which you can start off with:
It’s never too early
You can already begin teaching your child basic table manners when they are capable of eating independently in a high chair or old enough to sit at the dining table. Examples include teaching them to wipe their mouths after eating and saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. As they grow, you can then introduce them to more complex dining skills.
Make it pleasant
Don’t reprimand your toddler harshly when they misbehave at the table. This will only cause them to hate mealtimes. Instead, gently explain why it’s important for them to practise good table manners. If your toddler tends to forget easily, use gentle reminders to reinforce what you had taught them.
It can be tempting to keep your toddler occupied at the table with an iPad but this won’t improve your child’s table manners. In fact, this can do them more harm than good. Overexposure to electronics can cause impaired learning and delayed language skills. Experts say that kids thrive when they are read to and talked to. Mealtimes are perfect for your child to have some one-on-one time with you so don’t let these opportunities go to waste.
Should you really have to distract them, use cutlery instead. If your toddler has a habit of swiping at the spoonfuls of food that you try feeding them, let them hold a plastic spoon in each hand to keep their hands occupied.
When your toddler shows improvement in their table manners, compliment them. This is a form of encouragement and can reinforce their behaviour. However, refrain from overdoing it as they might misunderstand that they are the center of attention whenever you sit down for a meal.
One at a time
Don’t pile your toddler’s plate with food; it will only result in a mess due to either their playfulness or their newly developed and still weak pincer grasp. Place a few morsels of food on their plate and only refill when they have finished.
Don’t force them
At their age, toddlers get restless easily so it’s likely that they will want to leave the table before everyone else has finished eating. Forcing them to remain where they are will only make them loathe eating at the table. Instead, allow them to leave when they are done eating and play quietly nearby.
Lead by example
It may sound cliché but you really are your child’s role model. You are the person with whom your toddler spends the most time so it’s a given that they will emulate you in many ways – and this includes table manners. Therefore, you need to set a good example for them. By having meals together, your toddler is likely to pick up good table manners more effectively.
Baby Center. Available at www.babycenter.com
Better Health. Available at www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au
Eat Right. Available at www.eatright.org
Parenting. Available at www.parenting.com
She Knows. Available at www.sheknows.com
Today Parents. Available at www.today.com
University of California San Francisco. Available at www.ucsfbenioffchildrens.org