The words ‘preschooler’ and ‘messy’ are synonymous with each other, especially when it comes to the dining table. Kids love getting their hands (and feet and arms and face and everything else) messy and gooey. However, there are some basic table manners which they can be reminded of time and again from an early age.
According to parenting coach Lisa Bunnage, “Toddlers need constant reminding to behave. It’s all a game to little ones, so it’s up to parents to set the mealtimes rules right from the start.”
It could begin by washing hands alongside them before coming to the dining table. If kids observe you doing it before every meal, they’ll do it too. Next comes using words like ‘Please’ and ‘Thank you’. For instance, ‘Ketchup’ from them should not elicit a response from you, except for a gentle reminder to put it like ‘Please pass me the ketchup’ followed by a ‘Thank you’. Needless to say, it will take considerable prodding and reinforcing efforts on your part but eventually they’ll get used to talking a particular way.
Slightly older kids should be taught to help in clearing the table after a meal. Even if they aren’t tall enough to reach up to the kitchen counter, they could simply carry the dirty plates to the sink and hand them over to an adult. Lastly, washing hands after a meal needs to be emphasized the same way as before beginning a meal.
The key is to set realistic expectations and gently remind them about their table manners at each mealtime. Preschoolers are avid observers and fast learners; in no time, they’ll be perfect little gentlemen and gentlewomen with regard to table etiquette!