As your child grows from an infant to a toddler, he will begin eating at the family dinner table. At this time, it is appropriate to begin instilling proper table manners. However, these manners must be taught in steps. For example, you cannot expect a toddler to learn the proper silverware to use. Teach young children the basics of table manners and etiquette, and they can learn more as they grow.
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Age 1 to 2
The manners you teach toddlers -- 1 to 2 years old -- must be basic, as they are still learning to talk properly and may not understand what you are trying to get them to do. A toddler can be taught to keep her hands to herself and not to grab at other people's food. She also can be taught not to eat with her hands, but do not expect her to use the proper silverware. Toddlers can also be taught to not spit, scream or bang utensils when at the table. Saying "please" and "thank you" can be taught, but may not be completely understood by your toddler.
Age 2 to 4
In the preschool phase -- ages 2 to 4 -- your child should have all of the toddler tasks mastered. He should be accustomed to saying "please" and "thank you" when asking or receiving something. Teach him to ask permission to leave the table by saying, "May I please be excused?" Teach him to clear his own dishes -- as long as they aren't fragile -- and place them in sink or on the counter. Teach him to not complain about his food and to wait for everyone to get to the table before eating.
Age 6 to 8
A school-aged child -- 6 to 8 years old -- should have mastered the manners taught in the years prior and is now ready for more responsibility. She should know to place her napkin in her lap before starting to eat. She should understand how to properly compliment the food she likes, but not say anything about food she dislikes. Chewing with her mouth closed and not slurping her food are excellent manners to teach at this point. She should now understand how to use all of her utensils properly.
Age 10 to 12
In his preteen years -- 10 to 12 years old -- your child should have a firm grasp of table manners and can begin learning the more detailed manners. He should be helping set the table -- at home -- and clearing the table after dinner. He must be taught to ask for something that is not in direct reach and never reach over someone. Teach him not to chew with his mouth open and to wait until he swallows his food before talking. This is also a good time to teach proper fork and spoon usage.
Age 13 to 18
From 13 through 18, your child should simply maintain the manners she has learnt in her younger years. Do not be lax on manners simply because she is older. No need to yell and scream, but let her know what she is doing wrong.
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