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Advice about Kids' Table Manners

Berkeley Parents Network > Advice > Parenting, Families, & the Community > Advice about Kids' Table Manners


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How to teach 10 year old boy table manners

April 2014

My son is 10 and has ADHD. We haven't been focused on his table manners until recently, as we've had other, more important issues to deal with - school, homework, friendships, etc. But recently we watched him at dinner and realized that his manners are worse than they were when he was a toddler. Some of it may be OT-related (difficultly with the manual dexterity needed to hold a fork and knife, etc.), but some of it likely is related to lack of practice due to our not having made table manners a priority. I had hoped this behavior would improve over time, but clearly it's heading in the wrong direction. Any suggestions for how we can help him? A manners video? -No feet on the table, please


Direct, explicit teaching would be best.

''Ralph.. please put your napkin in your lap. good.Now sit up straight. Just like that. Wow, you did that so well. Now make sure you are eating with your fork and knife..''.

If he forgets, simply remind him. If he forgets again, show him how you do it and remind him again. If he forgets again, say something like ''if you don't use your fork, you will have a 10 minute time out (or.. I will take your food away from you for 10 minutes,.. or you will not get dessert, or whatever- and stick to what you say)

I have a son with ADHD, and he tends to eat really fast, gulping and not cutting with knives and such. He also never remembers his napkin, sits up like a hunched over convict... The best thing to do is model the good behavior you want him to use. Make sure you are ALWAYS using good table manners. Then remind him constantly. He may forget, but he's definitely old enough to figure out what you want pretty quick. No videos are needed. Just tell him what you expect of him.

We pretty much start most meals with reminders. Then he comes along pretty quickly. We have been working on his table manners all his life and he's 11. One day it will all come together I'm sure. been there


I have an almost 10yr old with ADHD and terrible table manners, so I feel your pain. Frankly, for us it's still not worth the battle. We have other priorities, such as getting him to eat (he's on stimulants during school and still not hungry most of the day). He doesn't have the fine motor skills to use a knife, and he becomes super frustrated and oppositional if we encourage him to try. However, here are some ideas:

1. Work on just 1 or 2 things at a time. For us it's keeping his body to himself while at the table and not bringing up inappropriate conversation (potty words usually. Yes, still dealing with that. Got to love the lack of impulse control in ADHD kids).

2. Have a reward. We use a token system where he earns tokens for good behavior, etc., and he can trade in the tokens for rewards. If getting a lot of calories into him isn't an issue, dessert can be a reward. You know your kid--what does he love that he can get immediately after dinner?

3. This sounds crazy for a 10yr old, and I can't believe it works for us, and of course it's not ideal when you're trying to have a family conversation over dinner, but I've been reading my kids Harry Potter and they're entranced. I'll eat my dinner faster than they do then read to them while they're finishing up then while they have dessert. My son calms down tremendously during these readings and eats automatically, kind of without realizing what he's doing, even eating stuff he's declared he'll never touch. I *do* only read as long as they're eating and will remind them if they stop LOL.

4. When I'm reading, my son might actually try to use the knife to cut his food. I always make sure the food is something easy for him to cut, otherwise I'll cut it before giving it to him. But usually he won't even try and just shoves it all into his mouth. But when he's calm from the reading and not really paying attention, I find that he's less averse to doing things that come naturally to others but he finds difficult and frustrating.

Hope this helps. My son still has terrible table manners. I'm hoping peer pressure will make him care enough to put in more effort. Meanwhile, it's been slow work. Ava


Trust me, this doesn't get better on its own. There's a question on the BPN website from the parent of a 19 year old who never got around to teaching her kid table manners and now she's worried this will affect his adult relationships and career options. So you need to take some action.

Tell your son it's time to work on table manners, so he knows ahead of time. Pick one area of focus at a time. Say ''I'm going to help you remember to use a fork to eat.'' If you aren't already having family dinner together every night, start doing it. Then at EVERY meal, every time he picks up food with his hands, remind him to use the fork. At my house we say ''Use the fork, Luke!'' (Star Wars reference - get it?)

My 13 year old son has several friends who never learned table manners. When they have dinner with us, they use their fingers to push food on to their forks, or they skip the fork entirely and pick up food with their hands, or they mechanically shovel food into their mouths while hunched over their plates. One kid recently sat down to dinner with 10 of us, holding a magazine in front of her face for the entire meal. Very anti-social. Her mom was at the table too so I said nothing.

But I do correct kids at my table when their parents aren't present, and maybe the parents of your son's friends will do the same when your son visits. I think kids who have terrible table manners are at a disadvantage, and it is helpful for other adults to pitch in. So when a 13 year old has dinner with us and starts picking up the beans with his hands, I say ''Use the fork, Luke!'' or just ''Fork'' in a friendly offhand way. They do pick up the fork. Or I'll say ''Would you like me to get you another napkin?'' when they are wiping their hands on their shirts after picking up buttered potatoes with their fingers. They will say ''Oh, I have a napkin already'' and then use it. I also frequently have teens and young adults at my table who want to text during dinner, and I tell them our house rule is no phones at the table. Sometimes they are surprised! But they always put the phone away. Now they know a little more about conventions at the table and they will be less disadvantaged in the future. local mom


Hi- I come from a home that didn't really value or teach manners and I resented that later in life.... so now that I am am a mom to 3 kids, I am determined to give my kids the skills to eat properly and respectfully. It helps that my husband was raised in a house that did really value manners, so we are unified in that regard.

I found myself repeating the same thing over and over again, ''knees down'', ''close mouth while chewing'' etc and I started not only see how annoying this was to my kids, but also it was irritating me! Finally, one day, I just decided that I would no longer say ''knees down'' or whatever else behavior I was trying to correct for the millionth time. Instead, I would say Strike 1, followed by Strike 2. Strike 3 would mean no dessert.

It was an immediate success. We clearly established the rules and each kid got to add their own as well: no saying ''Yuck!'' to food, no getting up without being excused, no burping without saying ''excuse me'' etc. Anyone can call Strike for anyone else's transgression and just to up the ante, my husband and I only get 2 strikes before we are out. It has worked like a charm and my kids now have fun minding their manners. We recently got back from visiting my parents, and my kids had fun calling strikes against my mom, who still chews loudly with her mouth open. Mama of 3


This is I did with my boys:

- Picked a few desirable behaviors at a time to work on (keeping the chair on the floor, elbows off the table, and talking AFTER swallowing), and explain they are expected.

- At dinner, put about five chocolate chips on their placemats (hey, I know we're not supposed to bribe... but it sure worked)

- For each infraction, quietly take away one chocolate chip and put it on MY placemat. Sometimes they ask why but usually all I have to do is give a look and they know. Arguing results in a second chip removed.

- At the end of the meal, everyone eats what chocolate chips are on their placemats

Every year or so I have to do a little refresher for a week or two... but it has been very effective and eliminates the nagging which I don't like to do. - C


4-year-old Leftie's table manners

June 2013

my almost-4 yr old son is left-handed and we have made no effort to train him to use his non-dominant hand when eating, ie, when he attempts to use the knife (poorly at this age), we haven't made him use his right hand as is dictated by formal rules of etiquette, nor do we have him hold the fork in his right hand, ala ''american rules''. this has never even been a topic of conversation in our house, as neither my husband nor i care particularly about such things. i'm mainly concerned with the very basics of table manners at this point, such as not throwing food!

anyway, my sister, who is currently staying with us, pointed out that we should be teaching him to eat ''properly'' for his own benefit. i kind of feel that a left handed person should be able to reverse utensils for their own comfort and ease of use. her argument was that if we start now, he will easily learn the ''right'' way (pun intended, or is this even a pun since it is actually obviously the origin of this phrase!?) and thus not have poor table manners all his life. what do others think?

for those of you who want to point out the rudeness of my sister preaching to me about table manners while she sat at my table, eating my food (and currently living rent-free for a prolonged period in our guest room), not to mention offering unsolicited parenting advice, thank you; I did indeed notice. do most people really care about this stuff?


I am sorry, but your sister's ''table manner'' rules are totally arbitrary and completely rude. I am a left handed adult and eat with my left hand. I don't know what century she is referencing for making a left handed child do anything with their right hand, but that is just waaay 1800s. Next will she suggest tying his left hand behind his back??? I thought discrimination against lefties died a long time ago... southpaw and proud
Hi. I think your sister is WAAAAY off base. I am a right-handed American person who eats with fork in left hand because it seems awkward to me to be switching hands all the time. If anything, people seem to find it more graceful and efficient, not ''wrong.'' I cannot imagine a situation where this would be frowned upon, unless you were running for office as a Republican and it would give your primary opponent an opportunity to call you a Euroweenie. Sarah
I am a leftie and grew up in Europe where we do use both utensils at a meal. I have always held the knife in my left hand and have only ever had someone comment once ( a fellow leftie who thought I should be embarrassed to eat that way at a posh meal). Given how most American's only use a fork I don't think anyone would even notice. My work also had tonnes of left-handers (about 25% of our company) and I have no idea how any of them eat despite many meals with them- so no I don't think its important! left and proud
Your son's learning table manners has nothing to do w/ his dominant handedness. At 4 years old he should be taught age appropriate table manners and should be allowed to use whichever hand he chooses to use. Can YOU cut food and use a fork and spoon w/ your non dominant hand? If I did that people would likely assume I never learned table manners. I strongly doubt that anyone will EVER consider a left handed child/adult to have poor table manners just by the fact that they are using other then their right hand. REALLY??????? Why would you be concerned about this? People will, however, be concerned to sit at a table with a child who has poor table manners....ie: throwing food, shouting, grabbing, etc. Hope this helps. Sorry about your sister. SHE'S the one who would not be invited back to MY table. mom of a good mannered leftie.
Maybe I run with a simpler crowd, but I'm a lefty and in 40 years of feeding myself it's never once occurred or been pointed out to me that I ought to use the fork with my right hand for better etiquette. I use the fork in my left hand, knife in my right, and don't switch off - it just makes sense to use your dominant hand for the fork, doesn't it? I'm pretty sure it's even considered officially acceptable (whatever that means) for lefties to eat this way, but if your sister needs reassurance, tell her you're training him to eat European style. And regardless of what you decide to do later, at 4 he should definitely be concentrating on just eating neatly and politely (which is the real point of etiquette, anyway), not worrying about which hand he's using (hey, at least he's using a fork - you're ahead of some people). The best lefty dining tip I can impart is that he should always try to sit with his left arm on the outside corner whenever possible, to avoid bumping elbows with a right-handed diner next door. Maybe That's Why They Call It Gauche
When we lived in England, I was taught to hold my fork in my left hand and my knife in my right hand. People there mocked Americans for holding a fork in their right hand, transferring it to the left hand to cut meat, then transferring it back. I think at 3, if your son eats half his food with something other than his fingers, he is doing great. I certainly wouldn't try to get him to eat with his non-dominant hand. When he is older, if this is something that is important to him, it will be very easy for him to pick up. Also, I couldn't tell if you wanted comments about your sister so I'm not making any, but my tongue is bleeding from biting it so hard. Anon
i had never, ever heard anyone say that lefties should eat with the same hand as righties until your inquiry. and when i was an exchange student in france, where people hold forks in left hands, i was surprised my host family held forks in their right hands. until i figured out it was because they were all lefties! so the manners i always learned were about non-dominant hands, NOT right hands. my internet research reveals that your sister is not crazy because some people agree with her. but miss manners thinks you are teaching correct manners already. http://living.msn.com/life-inspired/miss-manners-advice/miss-manners-can-i-reorganize-a-dish-that-i-dont-like-2 anon
I am strongly left-handed and value highly table manners. I hold my fork in my left hand and always have. I typically use a knife in my right. If something is difficult to cut, I will use my left. Nobody has ever criticized me or commented on it. Probably more important to teach your child to hold a fork properly in his left hand (e.g., don't grab it full-fist like spear) than to hold the utensil in the right hand. Honestly, I would be thrilled your child is using a fork period! We still have to remind our teenaged daughter not to eat with her hands! Don't worry about it
Dear mom, I begin with a quick quote: ''anyway, my sister, who is currently staying with us, pointed out that we should be teaching him to eat 'properly' for his own benefit. i kind of feel that a left handed person should be able to reverse utensils for their own comfort and ease of use.'' Comfort and ease of use are the key words here. You have said it all in your own words. You know what is right here. Your sister is completely out of line. No one cares about this sort of thing, as long as the kid is demonstrating age-appropriate table manners. And no child should be forced to use a hand that doesn't come naturally - that would have far worse consequences, psychologically, than the imporantance of anyone being pleased by his use of his right hand down the road. I am aghast that your sister would have such an antiquated take on this issue. Please continue to advocate for your kid and while you're at it, maybe figure out a way to have better boundaries for yourself with your sister, as she sounds extremely invasive and controlling and inappropriate. Let's hear it for lefties
I am left handed and so are my two children (ages 15 and 12). We all use our forks in our left hands and, if we need to cut something at the table, use a knife in our right hands. I truly don't remember at what age my kids learned to use a knife consistently, but I doubt it was as young as 4. I also don't think of it as ''bad manners'' if they were to choose to use a knife in their left hands. As you have noted, there are more important ''manners'' related things than which hand holds which utensil. Southpaw Mom
Sheesh. I'm a leftie who group up in a pretty strict family from a table-manners point of view, and never once has my utensil handedness been commented on. After reading your post I had to think hard to remember what the supposed rules actually are (were). Manners are norms that are always in flux, and I'm pretty sure that this one is not really followed any more. We are an increasingly global society, where many people were raised in / have lived in multiple places and may follow the ''European rules,'' for example, or perhaps grew up using chopsticks and have taken on forks and knives later in life. I would let him be. As long as he figures out how to use utensils (instead of his hands) and chew with his mouth closed, he'll be fine. leftie
I am surrounded by lefties, and I did not know that they are supposed to use right-handed table manners. Are you sure that's a real thing? But I'm with you, he should put the knife and fork in whatever hand feels right, just like he should put a pencil in whatever hand feels right. My great-grandmother told us stories of being forced in school to use her right hand and we all agreed how BARBARIC that was! That would never happen today! But I guess your sister disagrees. Righty who is daughter, sister, wife and mother of lefties

19-year-old's terrible eating manners

August 2010

Our 19-year old son is a wonderful person in all ways except one: his eating habits. Even when we are guests at others' homes, he wolfs down large portions and keeps his complete focus only on his plate; he frequently takes very large second (and third) helpings; notwithstanding our repeated reminders, he ''helps'' his salad and other food onto the fork w/ his fingers -- in short, his eating habits are poor and embarrassing. Perhaps the failing is ours (altho our 17-yr- old daughter has none of these habits, so we must have done something right). We thought this might improve after a year of college but it hasn't. When we point something out to him at home, he makes light of it and we are reluctant to confront him directly about it in a general way for fear it will make him feel bad about himself and make him very self-conscious. We are by no means very formal people, but we don't want this to reflect badly on him (or us) as he starts to be in more adult situations in the future. We would welcome suggestions. Thanks. Perplexed


It is probably too late now, since is an adult, but you can still tell him that when he is eating at your table, such manners aren't allowed. If he won't accomodate your wishes, have him eat in another room. parent of teens
Hello, To be honest, I think you are doing your son a big disservice not to really work with him on this. My daughter is 12 now and I find that when she has friends over that don't have decent table manners it is a bit of a turn-off. It isn't cute or really all that understandable after a certain age. I remember having a realtor with bad table manners and even though that wasn't part of his job description it was a turn-off. I think you need to talk to him about it. Don't be wishy-washy about it being an up for grabs choice. It will affect him socially and professionally. Maybe he can have his choice whether he reads a book, attends a class, looks online or you lay it out but he just needs to do this. I am sorry you didn't work with him earlier when it was a more comfortable topic (when he was a child) and you can tell him that was your fault, but you need to find a way to really talk to him about it. It is totally unpleasant for other people to be around. Good luck. Mom who insists on decent manners
Ah, this is not an issue of intellect and manners. This is animal training. And you as the trainer are sending the wrong signals and confusing the animal and making yourself upset.

Your wolf-son is very hungry, so as long as he associates the dinner table with satiating his bottomless pit of hunger, he will neglect all other niceties like napkins, forks, conversation and actually tasting the food you spent time preparing.

So separate these two actions. This is how you do it. A couple of hours before the real meal, have him taken to a cheap dive all-you-can-eat locale to gorge himself. Let the animal overfeed. Yes, it's gross, but he'll probably love it.

Now for the real meal. Make it formal. Put out extra forks and spoons and stuff. Make it really complicated to eat. And then be *hypercritical* of his eating habits. Demand conversation. Talk about how each mouthful of wonderful food you've prepared (or had prepared) tastes. Gee - one guy I know loves to have sushi texture discussions with about 15 different types of tuna. Or different types of olives (there are about a gazillion). Cheese assortments are also good, plus any complicated fruit. Use weird utensils. Make it a competition!

Once he gets the message it's not about gorging, it's about social interaction, he'll start playing the game. And he'll be more popular in college - rare sushi dishes, unusual coffees and elaborate Chinese menus were a staple of my college years, and resulted in a couple of startups, so it is important. Lynne


10 and 7 year olds' messy table manners

April 2009

My two kids are almost 10 and 7 years old. On the whole, their table manners aren't TOO bad, but we seem to have hit a plateau, especially with the younger one who can't stay on her chair, prefers fingers, when does use a utensil will bring mouth to food rather than food to mouth, wipes mouth on sleeve, talks with mouth full. The older one also prefers fingers, and makes an incredible mess when attempting to use utensils. We've read loads of books on manners, we remind them before and during a meal, demonstrate the right way, practice the right way, etc. They both are also slow eaters, so it's not as if they're rushing to get the meal done. Any other tips and tricks on instilling good manners? Thanks! Ellen


Hope this idea helps - since your kids are ''older'' they may need a different kind of motivation than to do it because mom or dad asks them. Positive peer pressure can be a helpful tool. Perhaps you can tell them that they can each invite a friend to dinner on a Friday or Saturday evening (maybe once a month), pick out a date on the calendar and circle it, make a big fun visual display of it...and reinforce that when you are eating around company, good table manners are expected. Each night, leading up to the dinner, ask them to share a good table manner and the whole family will practice it. So this ''practicing'' will reinforce your expectations of table manners and at the same time provide an opportunity for the kids to contol and modify their own behaviors and hopefully, with repetativenss, will break any undesireable habits they may have begun to form. When the friend(s) come to dinner (hopefully they have good table manners too, kids usually do at other people's homes..right?), you're kids can be proud to show their good table manners (and you can praise them away from the peer or in front of the peer - whatever you feel appropriate - to reinforce the behavior). When this gets old, maybe along with inviting a friend over, your kids can help create the dinner menu or even help ''cook.'' Mealtimes are great learning opportunities. believer of mealtime etiquette too
This is a grandmother's viewpoint so may not be politically correct among your friends. But I was rewarded for good behavior by my parents, my teachers, and then my employers. And I lost rewards for unwanted behaviors right up to the day I retired. The last two years my 6 year old grandson wins ''points'' for doing things he's supposed to do. It started with a shower before his swim lesson and has grown from there. He also knows that when I say he just lost 3 points I mean it. And he changes his behavior instantly. He was the one that figured out for himself that he could save up points from week to week. And that bought a lot of Thomas trains! Now he sometimes remembers to ask how many points he has. And other times he totally forgets about them. You could try a system like this. Other parents also reinforce the lost points concept by taking away a favorite toy. But that depends on knowing what's the favorite right this minute and for tomorrow too. jw in Berkeley
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