Teach Your Children Well–The Top Five Mealtime Etiquette Lessons for Children

Jan 11, 2008 by

Today my son’s grammar lesson involved handwriting a snail-mail letter. As we went over the process, I showed him how to address the letter he had chosen to write to his grandparents (Mr. and Mrs. Male-Name Evans). Now, my mother is not the least offended being called Mrs. Husband’s Name. But plenty of my college friends would be. And I couldn’t help thinking, am I teaching my son something that is obsolete?

What role do manners and etiquette play in the twenty-first century? Tea Party Girl wants to go on record as saying they play the same role they always did: to help us show preference and honor to others over ourselves. Good manners will never be obsolete and it is correct, for example, for my son to address his grandparents a way they are comfortable. “Hey, Pops!” does not work, on an envelope or to their face.

I’m always a little amused how many adults I have tea with who feel uneasy about their manners and make a comment about it. Teatime is not meant to be stiff and awkward, but somehow adults know it’s not a time to let it all hang out, either. So they worry about the minor things like whether they’re supposed to stick out their pinkie (you’re not! Unless your goal is to make fun of tea drinkers). But they’ll take a cell phone call during the tea or place their purse (that’s just been on the car floor) on the table and not think anything of it.

Do your children a favor, learn basic meal etiquette, and then teach it to them in the evening at the dining room table. A children’s tea party is an excellent, fun way to teach etiquette as well. But children need some of the basics reinforced over and over and over again (unless your children are different from mine in this regard).

So here’s some basic fundamentals of mealtime etiquette, modified from Emily Post’s The Guide to Good Manners for Kids. As a mother and Tea Party Girl, I’ve chosen the top seven I wish every parent taught their child.

Arrive at the table with clean hands and face. I admit, I did not do this every time when my children were very little. Now I regret it because I have to remind them all the time. It’s not a habit. Do you have the habit of washing your hands before you sit down to eat? Do your children?

Start eating when the host begins, or when everyone else does. Even in your own home. It breaks my heart to see hard-working mothers serving their families only for the other members to chow down before she can even sit down. She deserves her work to be respected by waiting.

Don’t criticize the food. Oh, that my children would never do this when at other people’s home.I can’t stand it when other children do it to me. Serving a meal is a labor of love and the one receiving it should never criticize it. My children are not allowed to say, “I don’t like…”

Talk with everyone at the table. We don’t live in a society anymore where children are seen but not heard. I don’t think, however, that they should be allowed to talk on and on with their brother about the latest video game, either. I am trying to teach my children to ask questions of others and listen to one another. I do this because as an adult, I have sat by many a dominating or exclusive conversationalist.

Thank the person who prepared the meal. I have served countless, thankless meals in my home to other people’s children and my own. This is another manner I wish I had enforced more consistently when they were really little because they constantly forget. It means a great deal to me as a host when another child thanks me for serving them food.

Tea Party Girl Asks:   Anybody have an etiquette lesson they’d like to add to the list?

 Please leave a comment below.

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  1. I have to admit I was afraid when I saw your title. But I was able to check off each one.

    I would add that everyone should stay seated until everyone has finished. This is the thing that’s hardest for my kids, they think they should be able to get up and play as soon as they’re done, but I don’t think that’s polite.

    This has another purpose as well. A child that refuses to eat his dinner is more likely to eat some anyway if he’s required to sit in front of it until everyone has finished.

  2. Ginger

    What a wonderful post. Too many kids (and adults) these days have terrible manners. Thank you for teaching your children manners.

    Oh and I think I’m younger than you and I don’t mind being called Mrs. Myhusband’sname on occasion. I think it’s more formal. But then I might be old fashioned. 🙂

  3. Kendralee

    You go girl!

    We are not good about washing our hands first. In regard to letters, we send out over 200 Christmas letters and I always put the man’s name first! Or I might write ‘The Johnson Family’. Saying thank you and asking to be excused is important indeed. I do not like complaining of any sort, but that seems to be a constant issue in my house. My husband says I complain a lot…..well, he doesn’t understand. I just love to comment on things! LOL No, really, we must lead by example! Tea time at 4:00….I am going to add the “wash hands and face before sitting down starting today!
    Tally Ho!

  4. I love your blog. I am going to have a tea for a friend for her birthday the end of this month and I read some very helpful tips, thank you.

  5. Carina


    I’m glad I’m not the only mom reinforcing manners at the table! (Sometimes I think I am covering the same points of etiquette over and over!!!) Your top seven are all ones we work on here too. I also have the children keep their napkins in their laps and ask to be excused before leaving the table. (When they are excused they must clear their place, rinse their utensils, cup and dish and place everything in the dishwasher. If the dishwasher is already full, they can just leave their rinsed items in the sink. Amazingly, even the almost 5 year old can do this…although I do have to remind him of his responsibility frequently!) 🙂

    Thanks for another great post!

  6. Cecile

    We taught our boys from a young age to wait until the girls and Mom were seated before they sat down. It blesses my heart each time I see them still, stand by their chair and wait for us to sit down. 🙂

  7. Elbows off of the table, please! I am a bit of a table-manners stickler, but always beam with pride when others comment on what well-mannered children we have – and no, I did not have to scream and threaten to teach them.

    It truly does start when they are small – children are eager to please from a very young age and good table manners can be a habit without ever having to nag or chastize. I always make an effort to comment on good table manners, something like “I’m so proud of you for waiting to eat until everyone was seated – what a big girl you are!” or “Thank you for using you manners.”

    Back to my intro line – I am amazed at how many people (mostly adults) I see resting one or both elbows/arms on the table while eating. Here’s another one – no nose-blowing at the table especially in a restaurant….gross!

  8. What a great post, I need to print those out for all my boys (dh included!:) ) I think #2 and #3 are the ones we need work with, great reminder!

  9. JHS

    Thanks for participating in this week’s Carnival of Family Life, hosted at Diary of 1!!

  10. 3wheelerbuggy

    You wouldn’t believe how long ive been looking for something like this. Browsed through 9 pages of Google results and couldn’t find anything. Quick search on Bing. There was this… Gotta start using this more often

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