Q&A: teaching table manners to toddlers

Here's an emotionally-neutral (I hope) question for today. Anna writes:

"I would love to hear suggestions on how to begin teaching table mannersto toddlers.  I've followed my mother's advice to let my son (now
18-months) enjoy his food — it's flavors, textures, smells, etc. —
which has worked well in developing a wonderfully adventurous (for now)
little eater.  He'll try everything from snow peas to curries and
certainly does have fun at meal times.

Lately, however, I've noticed his younger playmates seem more adept with
utensils and family and friends are starting to expect better table
manners from him when it comes to cleanliness and eating without his
hands.  He can use fork and spoon but he usually casts them aside
quickly and dives into his pasta, yogurt, whatever, with both hands!

How to I start to teach him how to use utensils consistently without making meal times a drag?"

First of all, I think your mom is a super-genius for encouraging you to let him experience foods with all of his senses. I'm betting that probably has a lot to do with your not getting some of the eating pushback that a lot of other toddlers start giving around the 16-20-month mark. Since he's able to explore, he's not trying to exert control by refusing to eat.

With that in mind, I'll suggest that you make table manners a fun game. Some kind of Simon Says thing, or follow the leader, in which you use a spoon and he follows by using a spoon. Or singing a special song for each utensil while he's using it (similar to the "clean up, clean up" songs every preschool in the world uses to signal to kids that it's time to clean up). Or contrast "monster eating" (if he watches Cookie Monster) with "people eating" and let him take turns doing both.

In other words, if you can make it a fun new thing that becomes part of the experience instead of something that's taking the place of the way he's been eating, he'll take to it with more enthusiasm. Eventually, he'll figure out that forks are more efficient than hands (sometimes). And he'll be positively rewarded for using utensils and staying cleaner, so he'll just migrate that way in his behavior.

Also, try not to just him completely against other kids. Bear in mind that some of them have probably never been allowed to feed themselves (how many times have you seen parents holding a toddler's face and shoveling in the food so the toddler can't control it?) so they don't even know that food has more dimensions, and for them using a spoon is wacky rebellion.

It'll all come eventually. But probably not until he's at least 3. So think of it as more fun and more learning about being a person in society, and not enforcement with a pass/fail rate.

Anyone else have anecdotes or tips or comments?

59 thoughts on “Q&A: teaching table manners to toddlers”

  1. Seriously? People hold their kids’ faces and shove food in? Maybe it’s a good thing I rarely see kids other than my own.Our policy is to just relax and let the bops use whatever she wants. She’s two and a half. Sometimes she uses a fork or spoon; sometimes she uses her hands; sometimes she picks up the food with her hands and then places it on the fork. We have just introduced knives and she is very proud of being able to cut a piece of potato (with the wrong side of the knife, and a fairly awkward grip, but whatever).
    There’s no knowing yet how she’ll be when she’s older. But it is very relaxed for us. I really don’t want to fight with her over table manners like my mother did with me (including constantly criticizing me for things I just couldn’t change with my current level of motor skills).

  2. While I don’t believe in raising children to be heathens and we do have basic rules at the table, I also don’t totally agree with trying to get preschoolers to be overly mannerly.I do believe in modelling good table manners consistently. But personally I just have a huge goal of avoiding power struggles at family meals, especially dinner. People can be tired and cranky.
    My son’s almost 5 and 95% of the time he uses his fork and spoon and knife, asks to be excused, and clears his plate.
    Sometimes he still uses his hands and for the most part we let it go unless we’re in a restaurant. He’s been complimented on his restaurant behaviour so I guess it’s turning out ok so far.
    I *do* believe it’s increasingly important later on, even from a habit-forming sense, but I think it is much, much easier to teach table manners once kids have the dexterity and impulse control in place in other areas.
    What we did with some relatives and intend to do with our son is both have general expectations at the table and also have one “state dinner” a month – break out the garage-sale china with all kinds of interesting bits, serve food from other cultures or with special needs (soup spoons, lobster forks) and talk about different table manners (British fork-always-in-left-hand etc.) and playact and have fun.
    Incidently my parents have reasonable but not great table manners and I learned mine starting at age 13 when I went to camp (I know, sounds weird). Up until then I had no idea you shouldn’t butter the whole slice of bread, etc. etc. So that’s one reason I’m pretty confident you don’t have to learn them at 3.

  3. I’m on the same page as Shandra. My daughter (2nd child) is 15 months and I just don’t feel like it’s worth bothering too much at this age, in part because I know it will get easier when she’s not that much older. I also let the kids roam when eating. My son is now 3.5 and he pretty much stays put when eating. It was a lot easier to get there more organically then to try to force him to sit when he wasn’t ready. Not to say that I think the OP is being some sort of a control freak, it is perfectly natural to think about gradually moving them towards utensil use, but if you’re not having much success I wouldn’t sweat it.

  4. I was given a beautiful set of kid sized stainless- spoons, forks and knives. I look back now and realize that having put them out inspired my kids to imitate us and by age six my son happily spreads jelly on toast, cuts pancakes and even cuts his own meat. We didn’t force it, but the equipment was there. And, I’ve got to add, we ate as a family. There is no way a kid sitting in front of a tv is going to learn to imitate adult table manners. Sit together, light a candle and enjoy the time as a family.

  5. Modeling behavior is the big thing. The kid’ll catch on eventually (and while I’m certainly not worried at the age your kid is, I understand you’re feeling peer pressure so it *is* a big deal to you).Anyway, the biggest thing to me is eating with your kid. Yes, it’s easier to shovel the food into the kid and then grab your own later but for me it’s always worked best with little ones if we eat at meal times together. Then they catch on that you should sit still, use your fork and spoon, etc.

  6. When my son was 18-months-old, he spontaneously started putting the napkin in his laptop. I always gave him one, he saw what we did and followed in suit. I’m more and more convinced that they learn best from us providing the model. (Which is not to say that his hands, face, clothes, and tray/table aren’t covered in food at the end of the meal. We BLWed and don’t worry about that stuff too much. The heavy lifting with utensil education came from his daycare.)

  7. Day care taught Pumpkin how to feed herself yogurt with a spoon before I’d ever even considered trying. Maybe some of the kids whose utensil using prowess you’re envying are day care kids.Seriously, day care has taught her many useful skills way before I would have thought it was possible. Like blowing her own nose when she was 2. I have NO idea how they taught that. But it is genius.
    @Shandra- I still didn’t know you shouldn’t butter the whole slice of bread. Hmmm. And I mastered the “proper” way to eat soup (spooning away from you) quite late. So yeah- I don’t think you need to know these things all that early.
    Our main expectation for Pumpkin at the dinner table is that she not open her mouth and show us her food. We’ve started working on some other basic manners, but we’re not too stressed about them. Half of the time she won’t eat, so the last thing I’m going to do is add rules that make her even less likely to eat.

  8. I’m going to agree with most of the sentiments… There just isn’t a reason to push utensils at this age. We always had them out though. If we were eating with chopsticks, the kiddo had a set available. When a meal called for spoons, forks, whatever — the kiddo had a place set. I noticed a huge difference when I set her place with kid sized versions of adult-looking utensils. She hated the goofy kid versions with the impossibly dull forks that made it torture to actually get food on the fork.Sometimes the kiddo uses hands, other times utensils. We push cleanliness and wiping hands and faces more than we care what she uses to get food to her mouth.

  9. My 3.5 year old still uses her hands more often than not! She’s perfectly adept at a spoon for yogurt and soup, but we never particularly “worked on” it–just let her play with it when she was younger and she eventually figured it out. We give her the appropriate utensils but don’t push it–we model the use of them but honestly this is just not a major priority for me. Right now I care more about her sitting straight (i.e. not throwing her leg over the side of her chair) and keeping her fingers out of her glass/not using her straw to flick juice across the table.I second the tip about using smaller-sized real utensils rather than kiddie ones–those “forks” are so dull, you can’t spear anything with them. I bought demitasse spoons and little dessert forks and butter knives, which she likes a lot.

  10. I am usually adamantly opposed to overly cute foods or products specially designed for toddlers because a lot of them seem like overpriced, overpackaged versions of an adult version of something that a toddler could just as easily use with a little practice, or perhaps something they don’t need anyway (toddler gummy ‘fruit’ snax??)…HOWEVER, I love these:http://www.amazon.com/NUK-Gerber-Graduates-Cutlery-Colors/dp/B002UXQRNE
    A lot of toddler forks are just too blunt to actually use as forks, but these are just right: Pointy enough to use, but not pointy enough to get a good stab going on your sister. The handles are chubby and still easy to grip with wet or sticky hands. They’re widely available, and the spoons are nice, too.
    I agree with everyone who says utensil use is something that will be modeled and picked up on their own schedule. Offer a spoon and a fork without comment at every meal, and just see where he goes with it.
    I think at that age, our lessons on table manners were limited to “Don’t throw food.” Milbarge was in speech and feeding therapy at the time, so adding more layers of stress to meal times just seemed like a huge waste of time.
    Eventually we added “Don’t steal food from your sister,” and “Forks are not to be employed for petty assault” and “If you’re done, we would still like to enjoy your company until we’re done.”
    They’re 2.5 now and their current lessons on manners are:
    1. Set the table. We give one their plates and bowls and the other their utensils and they distribute them.
    2. No singing and dancing at the table.
    3. Use your napkin. They actually started this one by constantly asking for their own napkins after seeing us use them.
    4. Do not gag yourself with a spoon. This is not the 80’s.
    5. Please and thank you.
    They’re pretty darned good with forks and spoons, although frequently…weird. Sometimes they use forks on yogurt or french fries and spoons for eating a sandwich. Sometimes they don’t use them at all and we don’t sweat it.
    They wear bibs, but they also wear “eating shirts” for meals, so if they make a mess, nobody gets stressed. Their eating shirts are just shirts one or two sizes too big that I pick up from the thrift store for a few bucks. They’re way cheaper than fancy bibs with sleeves and using them at meal times means we don’t have to police the girls with regards to spills.
    I could be wrong, but I really think that at this age, expecting kids to be neat eaters and not spill any food is an exercise in futility for all parties. They’re not allowed to make deliberate messes (smearing goo all over the table, etc.) but we don’t pester them about normal dribbles and accidental drops.
    At 18 months, I think you’re doing it right. Just offer food and utensils and let him experience and explore both in his own way.

  11. Another vote for modeling the behavior you want and for family mealtime at the table. I definitely take advantage of the monkey see, monkey do-ness of the toddler years for table “manners” and using utensils, etc. At three he can use a spoon or a fork, cut soft food using a butter knife with some help and drink from a regular cup without spilling it everywhere. I also let him get up from the table when he is finished but I stay until I am finished and he helps me take some of the stuff into the kitchen. (We don’t have dinner at the table every night. It’s just the two of us and I’m not that into cooking. Sometimes dinner is a smoothie after a bike ride.) Big, big difference from 18 months to three years in attention span and dexterity, though, so OP shouldn’t feel like an 18 month old using his hands to eat is abnormal, imo.

  12. Akeeyu, not to criticize, but I have to say I just don’t get the bib/eating shirt thing. Aren’t toddler clothes ALL eating shirts? Doesn’t everyone expect 2 year olds to constantly have tomato sauce stains on their shirts?When my mom came to visit, she brought new clothes for the bops. And blueberry scones. She put a brand new white shirt on the bops, handed her a scone, then said “and don’t get food on your shirt!” What? I actually jumped in and said: “Actually bops, don’t worry about it. It’s ok to get food on your clothes.” May have been rude of me since the shirt was brand new from grandma, but seriously? What two-year-old can eat a blueberry scone without staining everything blue?

  13. I live in a very free-wheeling part of the country, with a lot of emphasis on do-things-your-own-way, which I mostly agree with.I diverge on the subject of table manners. I am the parent of younger children and older children, and in my experience watching their friends eat, modeling is not enough.
    We spend time with families who have children of all ages. I know lots of families where the adults use their silverware etc (!), and the children do not – 5,6,7 year old children. Ick! Close your mouth please and don’t talk until you have swallowed.
    You are not doing your children any favors if you allow them to become people no one likes to eat with.
    That said, 18 months is a bit early to expect the fine motor skill for silverware – but not too early to emphasize that everyone’s job at the table is to make eating pleasant for everyone else at the table.
    I really believe that people like well-mannered people more, and that you helping your child by insisting on good manners.

  14. @Shandra, what are you supposed to do? Butter each bite prior to biting? It seems fussy and more annoying for the other diners. But I am not familiar with fine dining etiquette.As for the OP question, I agree with others. Let them have the equipment and model proper usage.
    With our DD, we gave her spoons and forks early on (she was allowed to wield a spoon for her own yogurt or oatmeal at around 10 months. It was literally hit and miss, but she got it. She’s a dexterous bugger, and has never used a sippy cup either.)
    She’s now 4 and almost a half, and is pretty good with forks, spoons and even slicing. Her utensils are children sized, but the fork prongs are actually sharper than ours.
    Right now our biggest peeve is wiping the mouth on the shirt sleeve, but that’s partly our bad, because we keep forgetting to provide a napkin.

  15. Oh yeah, one other thing that helped some. We had been asking ShortStack to wipe his face with a napkin, but it wasn’t until we got out a hand mirror at the end of the meal that he figured out what we were actually asking him to do.

  16. I think 18 months is a little young to expect full on fork/spoon use. That said, we did buy the fun construction set of fork/spoon and pusher (that one was the favorite!) and any time those came out my boys were terribly excited. I’ve seen similar sets in Lego, etc. that look really fun. Maybe just have a spoon or fork accessible and part of your child’s sensory experience. They have the opportunity to try it but aren’t forced to.My boys are 5 yrs old and we are STILL working on table manners! They use their forks/spoons 80% of the time. When they pick up their broccoli with their fingers and eat it that way, typically it isn’t something I’m going to correct since they are eating their broccoli (and it is almost like that is a finger food of sorts). We are spending more time making sure their silverware isn’t used as a sword, weapon, etc. That seems to be taking up the bulk of our efforts.
    Also, we use cloth napkins – my boys are both really into soft things. They definitely prefer these over the paper ones since the cloth ones are so soft. Helps them to actually want to use their napkins.

  17. Dr. Confused,”Aren’t toddler clothes ALL eating shirts?”
    Well, no. We’re definitely not neat freaks and we encourage the girls to make messes and get dirty, but at the same time, I don’t really want to spend that much (okay, ANY) time trying to get stains out of clothes, nor do I want to constantly walk around with two kids covered in food.
    Make no mistake, it WOULD be two kids covered in food.
    Fitz-Hume considers eating to be a full body contact sport, she tends to get food up to her elbows and down to her waist. She’s definitely improving as her motor skills and give-a-crap improve, but before we put shirts on the girls, we were completely changing her clothes every time we fed her, and she eats a LOT. It’s easier/faster/more economical and environmentally sound to just toss a shirt on over her clothes.
    When Milbarge was in feeding therapy, we were supposed to be *encouraging* her to make a mess, plus with her sensory issues, trust me, the eating shirts made a huge difference in her feeding therapy.

  18. I think at a certain point, most kids get interested in how you are eating and try to mimic it. At one point, my daughter asked me something about what was in my mouth, and when I told her I also explained about eating with my mouth closed because “it’s good manners” (and I related it to Al the Alligator on either Noggin or Sprout… anyone know what I’m talking about?). The next day, and many days over the last 6-12 months, my daughter will eat something and exclaim, “Hey, I’m eating with my mouth closed!” I always encourage it, but never push it (even though it’s a huge pet peeve of mine for people to eat with their mouths open). And that’s the approach I’ve generally taken.We also got cute toddler spoons and forks, which have helped inspire interest even for the 14 month old. The utensil in the play kitchen also helped normalize the use of utensils.
    The latest thing we’ve done for the 3 year old is put the kids’ utensils, plates, bowls and cups in a lower cabinet so she can get them herself and set her own place. This gives her independence in choosing what she wants, which has really helped reduce the fights over things like which cup she wants (if it’s not in the cabinet, it’s not clean so pick another). The 14 month old is already starting to go into the cabinet when it’s open and pick out bowls and put them on the table.
    We are also working on what you do with your stuff when you finish eating (Hint: It’s not leave it for someone else to clean up!). But we mostly make it a fun thing, part of good manners and something that BIG GIRLS can do!!!

  19. My daughter is four, and still eats plenty of things with her hands. However, she eats more fruits and veggies than most of her friends. If it is something like broccoli or cauliflower, or cut fruit, I allow it. She always uses her napkin, never chews with her mouth open, and asks to be excused when she is done. My husband’s famly tends to have a problem with it. I don’t care. Luckily we see them only a few times a year. I tend to be pretty conservative, but this issue has just never bothered me. I am thrilled that I have a child who eats. I don’t have to grind up veggies and hide them in her tomato sauce. Choose your battles!*we use Zoopals funtensils. You can buy them at your grocery store, they are about 2 bucks a box, and if they accidentally get thrown away, it’s no biggee.

  20. At 2y2m, we’re focusing on having DS not willfully messing with his food or sticking fingers in his milk cup. It’s rare now, but I remember him going through a phase around 18 months when he started throwing food again (after not doing it for a long time).Also agree with other posters about not worrying about the (honest) mess from accidents or just a lack of control. Yogurt & soup are messy, and usually require a change of clothes when DS doesn’t want to wear a bib. But it doesn’t bother me doing clean up around that, and, well, we have a dog, so she helps out too with the floor.
    DS has pretty much always liked using a spoon & fork, though he does use his hands frequently. I think it mostly came from it being the norm at daycare (as @Cloud mentioned), and seeing us eat. Will try putting the knife out from his toddler set now too. Who knows, maybe he’ll try more foods just because he can cut them.
    And we’ll definitely try the napkin thing. It never occurred to me before to try that. DS always brings his dishes to the kitchen when he’s done and then wants his hands clean. Doesn’t like dirty hands. I’m sure he’ll love having a napkin so he can do it himself.
    @Cloud, I’ve been trying to teach DS to blow his nose as he’s been resisting salinex and the snot sucker more and more lately. I basically modeled it to him in an exaggerated way and also let him feel the air coming out of my nose so he knows he has to push air out of his nose too. He mimics that now, though I don’t think it’s totally effective yet. But after he does it I ask if his nose is better, and he says ‘yes’. 🙂 I’m assuming we’ll get there eventually.

  21. I’m glad to see this post: I’ve started pushing on some table manners with my 2.5 y.o. son . . . . That said, I think the only one that usually sticks is “your feet go under the table.” And honestly, right now I’m just trying to get him to eat a little dinner, no matter the cost. (Family circumstances have him getting home from daycare later these days, and I think that seriously compromises his appetite/ability to concentrate on dinner.)But really — and I’m only admitting this to make the rest of you feel better — since we started potty training for real, we’re doing well if he keeps his penis off the table and the utensils off his penis.
    Sad but true.
    I’m telling myself that this is a short-lived phase. Someone reassure me. Please.

  22. Forgot to mention, from about 12 months to idunno, maybe 3, we always had a wet washcloth for DD to wipe mouth and hands with. Why that didn’t transition to a regular napkin, I don’t know. But she was good about cleaning herself up back then!

  23. Another vote here for simply providing the utensils that are appropriate for the meal, and letting him watch you eat until eventually he gets it and picks up the spoon because he wants to be *just like you*. 18 months is still early for utensils IMO, I think his eating habits are just fine! I’ll bet by the time he’s 2 he’s using utensils the best that his fine motor skills allow.We work on table manners pretty gradually around here… one thing at a time. Once my 3 year old could use utensils reliably (though we haven’t introduced a knife yet) we started working on staying at the table during the meal. Once that was going well (still not perfect but not as bad as it was) we started working on not talking with your mouth full. This one is still a work in progress. Ok… its not going well. She just can’t remember not to do it! Sometimes the food falls right on out of ther mouth as she exclaims about the squirrel in the back yard or whatever.
    Regarding @Shandra’s bread buttering manners… yeah you are supposed to put a little smear of butter before each bite. I don’t do this at home nor would I expect a child to do it… but if in a fancypants restaraunt, I do it. My rule of thumb is that if you have a special plate and little knife for the eating of the bread or bun, then use the proper etiquitte. If not, schmear the whole works and be done with it!
    @Cloud, my daycare taught Rosie how to blow her nose at a remarkably young age too! I don’t even know if she was 2 yet… it was like a nose blowing miracle! Life changes when a kid can deal with their own snot.

  24. Schwa de Vivre – Ha ha ha. I have said those same things before. And I never thought I would.For teaching blowing nose: I had the kid practice blowing out a “birthday” candle with his mouth closed to get the idea of air out the nose. Caveats: no cake was harmed in this exercise and the kid did not actually have anything gross coming out of his nose at the time.

  25. @Schwa de Vivre, “we’re doing well if he keeps his penis off the table and the utensils off his penis.”hahahahahahahahahaha!
    Sorry. Probably not truly funny when its happening. But man that cracked me up!

  26. Put me in the category of “not sweating” the toddler table manners. DS (27 mo) uses a spoon and fork quite well (he can blow his own nose too, since he was 18 or 19 months; we taught him, but I don’t know why he got it), but I don’t care if he uses his hands. We focus on please and thank you, and he helps clean up his face and tray when he’s done eating. My husband isn’t consistent about cleaning up after meals, which drives me nuts and also I’ve noticed now my DS often won’t clean up when hubby is feeding him. Anyway we also work on not putting fingers into cups, but mostly because he does it to our cups too. I’m so glad he doesn’t throw food on the floor, because that would make me crazy.

  27. I’m stuck on the bread and butter thing. but then I’ve recently realized that I grew up with pretty much zero social graces. Hippy parents. We got please and thank you and that was about it!Our older has learned a lot of manners from daycare. Our only initial rule was that you had to wear underpants at the table. This is still comes into play and she is about to start Kindergarten. And we try to avoid singing and dancing at the table but sometimes it can’t be helped.
    I like the idea of having State Dinners. The little one is only just 2, so manners are really out, but he loves to use utensils. Tools, any kind of tools are cool for him.
    and I absolutely back the idea of smaller utensils. Oneida makes some smaller kid sets that are fantastic. Santa brought the elder one the larger knife/fork/spoon set one year and the Easter bunny brought the baby spoon/fork for the little one his first year.

  28. We model *and* actively guide as needed, and the Infanta has excellent table manners for 26mos – better than her BFF who is 5 weeks older, in fact. Like many, we don’t sweat accidental drips/drops, but we do crack down on deliberate misuse. Our first lessons in etiquette – “sit straight” – started as soon as she was eating solids (a little over a year, she just didn’t want any til then), and were quickly absorbed. She still needs reminders, of course, but we’ve long since moved on to worrying about eating with her mouth shut and sitting until everyone’s finished.Other than that, we simply have fairly high expectations for self-discipline, and that seems to make a huge difference in her behavior in general.

  29. I’m in the “don’t sweat it” category. Daughter is 2.5, and my main interests with manners are: wash your hands before dinner, don’t put food/fingers in your cup, and don’t open your mouth to show off your food. For now, that’s enough for me. I figure the rest will come with time.

  30. For some reason I feel like I have a lot to say on this innocuous subject :)@Cloud is so right, day-care is fabulous at teaching this sort of thing. I think it’s a combination of peer pressure, the teachers’ experience, and their ability to focus more on the task than a harried parent always can. I think they got my son using spoons before I thought it was possible.
    My own major concern is that I still let my 3.5-y-o son excuse himself (i.e. come and go) rather than ask to be excused. I guess it’s partly because he doesn’t eat much dinner and partly because he’s still so active at this age. I also notice that he’s getting better and better about sitting there and eating when he *is* hungry, so I feel like we’re moving in the right direction.
    My big focus at the moment is manners: please, thank you, not making bubbles with your straw, not being disgusting in other ways, not harassing us when we’re eating–generally allowing us parents to enjoy our food even if he doesn’t want his.
    But at 15-18 months, yeah, if you’re eating and happy I don’t care what you’re doing. I do wonder if other parents have neater homes because they don’t let their children roam while eating, but I guess I find the bother of trying to enforce rules more annoying than the cleaning up afterwards.
    Even pre-child we’ve never been the types to set and clear the table, wash the dishes right after dinner, etc., and I do worry about that rubbing off on the kids. I do all the cooking and the pot-washing, and if I wanted the clean-up to happen right away, I’d have to do that too as my husband doesn’t mind waiting. I plan on getting more regular about that part of things in a few years when the kids are otherwise more disciplined at mealtime, though I’m trying to work on it a little now.

  31. The OP’s son sounds pretty normal to me. Learning manners is a gradual process, and expectations are going to change as the child grows. At 18 months, I think we were just starting to get strict about deliberate food throwing and feet on the table. Utensils were always put out at that age but never required. Everyone’s going to have their own issues, so unless your child is doing something wildly inappropriate for her/his age, I wouldn’t sweat it.Oh, and we’ve loved these cutlery sets from REI for our kids: http://www.rei.com/product/626968 .

  32. My daughter is 17 months and I’m finding this fascinating. Love the food shirt idea.When did other people make the switch to non-sippy cups? My daughter wants to use a regular cup really, really bad and I occasionally give her a bit of water in a little plastic cup, but most of it ends up on the floor. I guess we should just keep practicing this occasionally and switch her mealtime cup when she gets good at it?
    I also wonder about when to quit using the tray on her highchair and start letting her sit up to the table? At daycare they have a little kid sized-table so she’s used to sitting at a table there. Am I keeping her behind by using the tray at home?

  33. @Jessica, I think your idea to let her practice and then switch when she’s more adept is spot on. I’m hoping to complete ditch sippy cups in the house by the time my younger child is 2.5-3yo. He’s getting good at using a regular cup, but I just don’t have the patience right now to mop up spills at every meal time.As for the tray, my daughter started sitting at the table full-time when she was around 2. My son was probably around 21 months when we permanently ditched the tray. It was when I could trust him not to throw (breakable) dishes on the floor.

  34. I was reading an article in the Post and hopped over here, then back, and the following passage seems in keeping with the natural acquisition approach people here are advocating:”‘As long as it’s humane, we allow the customer to do whatever their tradition and religion dictate,’ Cavanaugh said, bending down to pick up a piece of goat intestine. ‘We just clean up afterwards.'”
    Dinner at our house!

  35. Bread etiquette: You’re supposed to put a small pat of butter on your bread plate with the butter knife. Then to eat, you rip of a 1-2 bite size piece of the bread or roll, butter that piece with your own knife from your little stash, and eat that before moving onto the next.I also learned to spoon soup away from me and to always pass the salt and pepper together and onto the table, not hand to hand and a few other things (we had to serve, and do family-style as well…it was sort of a finishing-school type camp. Except on the days it was hot dogs and beans.)

  36. @Jessica – somewhere around 2 is when we started to introduce the booster seat at the table, but I think we left the high chair in the room until she really had no interest in it.We too struggle with keeping the straw in the cup, hands out of the cup, bubbles from the straw. At just about 4, we remind her to use her fork but not obsessively. Daycare teacher told me last week that the kids were safely cutting fruit with plastic knives, so I need to dig some out of my picnic box & add it to her place setting.
    We have those little plates, cups & bowls from Ikea that are bright color plastic (dishwasher safe, not for microwave) and now only use the regular silverware (she gets the salad fork & teaspoon). I agree that cloth napkins (or a washcloth) are more effective than paper napkins. She reminds US if we forgot to give her a napkin!
    At 18 mo, don’t sweat it. As many previous posters said, kids develop the small motor dexterity at different rates.

  37. @Jessica, our guy switched to a regular cup around 18 months. The change was brought on by daycare as they said they don’t use bottles in the 18-30 month old room. I panicked a bit just before because I thought DS wasn’t ready, but he ended up transitioning quite quickly. It will come in time with your DD. Like Erin, I think it’s a good idea to practice with water, and then switch when she’s ready. It’s not always fun to get milk or juice out of things.As for the tray DS always sat at the table as we have a high chair that pulls right up to the table (no tray). We just monitored how close we put other dishes and utensils.
    Probably around 20 or 21 months DS started eating most of his meals at his kiddie table. If it’s just the two of us, I’ll sit down there and eat with him. Or he eats on his own. Then he gets up when he’s done, brings his dirty dishes to the kitchen (as he uses the kiddie table to play on as well), and asks for hands to be wiped. We all eat family dinners at the big table. But I find it’s hard right now (at 2y2m) to get him to sit at the big table unless we’re all eating there.

  38. I’ve noticed that during this current period of not eating together as a family, at the table (my house is under construction and we’re eating on tray tables/high chair for awhile) that Fuss’s utensil use is wavering. She is more apt to use her hands from the get go (as opposed to when she was at least starting her meals by using the utensils and often later switching to hands).This discussion gives me a little hope though that she will get it eventually and I don’t have to rush too much to push manners.
    My husband jokes sometimes that we’ll know it’s time to rethink our strategy when she goes to someone’s house and starts to take off her clothes before eating (what I do when her meal is particularly messy and I want to cut down on unnecessary laundry).

  39. Wow. I am AMAZED at the level of manners expected at such early ages.I am so intent on just getting my finicky 3 yr old to eat that I rarely interfere with his methods. Though,admittedly, he is very fond of all utensils and is learning how to use chopsticks.
    My issue is more about sitting still. Unless I starve him till dinner and suffer his cranky mood,he refuses to sit for the entire meal. In the Ilg&Ames book, Your Three Year Old , they claim it isn’t in the three year old skill set so I let it go.The only time it really bothers me is at the Grandparents’ house. At home, it gives my sweetie and I time to talk alone while the little sprite builds train sets.

  40. Will go back and read but have a minute to post so I’m gonna take it – E (who turned 3 a couple of weeks ago) still uses his hands at home about 75% of the time. We’ve recently started putting utensils out for him again and he uses them until he gets frustrated/distracted. Also, unprompted, he always uses utensils when we go out. Don’t know why, but maybe because he knows that it’s different when you’re in public.As a side-note, he’s a great eater, even at three. He’s starting to show signs of losing some of his adventurous spirit when it comes to food, but we’ve had a great run. I attribute that, in part, to the no pressure, always eat together, eat till you’re full, etc attitude we have around here.
    No kid ever went to Yale eating with his hands. So I say, provide the utensils, model their proper use, and then take a mental picture when avocado comes squishing out of your adorable 18m old’s fingers, as sooner than you want, these days will be gone.

  41. @Jessica, we use regular cups at the table and sippy cups everywhere else. My kids are 6 months and 3 years (yes even the 6 month old uses a regular cup, but it’s a miniature little one, and I hold it). It might take you helping with the regular cup for a while (i.e. you both hold it for every sip). The reason my 3 year old still uses sippies everywhere but at the table is not because she has trouble drinking from the cup, but because she’s careless and will inevitably knock the cup over with her arm onto the carpet / car seat / my lap.As for the high chair to booster seat transition… this to me is kind of similar to the whole utensil discussion. Most kids start to want to do what you’re doing, and eventually will want to sit at the table and not in a high chair. That was certainly the case with my older daughter. Our high chair wasn’t really a high chair; it strapped onto a regular chair. One day we just didn’t put the tray on and pushed her into the table. She just beamed, and from that day on, she didn’t want the tray. Same with moving from booster to a regular chair, except with that, it was her idea. She kept wanting to go on her knees on a regular chair instead of in her booster seat, so we just let her even though the table was at chin level.
    Also – regarding the fork discussion – Ikea forks are plastic but nice and pointy so they can actually stab a piece of food (and a sibling…).

  42. As a child I never understood the hypocrisy in the formal manners I was drilled in. We also had very formal family dinners at relatives’ homes that seemed stuck in 1911. Ancient relations I had and my parents were well into middle age as the surprise that was my arrival appeared.The rule was that if an adult guest ate with his hands, a leg of chicken or French fries , or drank from the finger bowl, the host should immediately imitate. Never should a guest be embarrassed.
    They all came down like a pack of wolves on little me though. I was born with the ” wrong” hand, and the ultimately unsuccessful attempts at turning me right-handed never truly worked.
    Fortunately we didn’t have to eat the US way where you move the fork to your right hand. All I ever did right was fork work. I was really dextrous, ho ho what a pun, at marshalling the tiniest of peas.
    But spooning soup away from me, cutting food up ( hold the knife like a pen ! I did ! It took a year of learning to write with my left hand behind my back, didn’t work) , and grabbing the glass of the person next to me with my left hand, oh dear, oh dear, my table manners put me in the spotlight in the worst way. I was the only under 18 most of the time as it was.
    With DD we did the baby led weaning as she wouldn’t take purees. She soon craved cutlery and we found a set of very well made children’s cutlery in a shop together which she handed to me demonstratively at 14 months so I might pay for them.
    I bought two sets and two of the red with stars eating garments. Goes over the head, fastens with velcro at the back, has a trough for fallen food. We also use cloth napkins. DD has eczema and I wash with ultra gentle detergents. They don’t get stains out.
    I only feed food at a table unless it’s a picnic. If DD wants a snack she pulls her chair out first now at 2.5. We have meals because after saying my relations were dinosaurs I stick to meals at tables.
    She’s been on a booster seat since 16 months as she’s very tall and she has a breakfast plate to our dinner plates and her cutlery. She mainly uses fork and spoon and the knife just for positioning food.
    I don’t ever insist she uses any cutlery and as long as she doesn’t throw food or uses it as play-dough she can do what she likes with it. She eats as much or as little of the plate full as she wants.
    She has scaled down drinking glasses and mugs as we never could get her to drink from other cups.
    She’s a neat-nik and soon learned Oopsie for accidentally dropped food. She says sorry too.
    In other words she seems the very model of decorum when we go someplace. She’s not really.
    We were at a friend’s this week and said hostess presented a bowl of grapes with a small spoon in it so we might serve ourselves. DD moved the bowl towards her, picked up the spoon and then spooned all the grapes into her mouth, one by one. Everybody laughed and there was no criticism.
    So the irony is that she had picked up more manners happily than I did at an older age. And I still think that if a guest falls onto his food with both hands that the guest should be allowed to. It’s appreciation of the food for sure. A good host does not embarrass guests or their parents.
    That does not go for bun fights of course……

  43. Haven’t ready the comments, but my kid (3 in Nov) LOVES toothpicks. He’s actually pretty good at a fork and spoon, but using a toothpick to spear food seems to be a little easier for toddlers. Might be a good compromise for when you want him to eat a little neater when you’re with family.

  44. akeeyu LMAO, Gag me with a spoon! My kids were kids in the 80’s and that was big one. Love the forks.I know – I am a curmudgeon, I agree. I’ve run into TONS of kids who are very sensory eaters. And that brings me to my two cents.
    Manners is not a one shot deal. What I’ve seen with my kids and my clients kids is that there are several times in life when the idea of teaching table manners comes up. TKnowing that allows parents to create breathing room with regard to manners.
    The issue of manners comes up at 18 months, 3-4 yrs old, around 7, and again when they are 12, and finally at about 16. Each time it comes up parents are giving more and more information until finally at about 12 you may find yourself saying, “Dude, are you ever planning on eating at a girlfriends house? Did you know her father will be there? Do you think he’ll be happy about letting you date his daughter if you eat like a viking??” Oh maybe that’s just me and my kids, LOL!
    As mentioned many times here, modeling is key. The more you model and stay away from correcting, unless food is thrown or stabbing a sibling happens, who ever said that-LMAO, the easier this lesson is taught.
    With my boys we did what Shandra suggested. One night a month I’d ask them to dress for dinner, a clean t-shirt and clean jeans. I’d serve a difficult meal and teach them how to eat the challenging food. We began that at age 7, then brought it back around at 12. Around 15 they both began to see that they were being invited to events that required manners and they asked us to teach them proper manners. They are fine gentleman now, thank goodness!
    For toddlers I totally agree with Moxie about making it a game. Eating is the most important thing at such a young age.
    If your child throws food, screams at the table, stabs a sibling or things like that, then yes, a correction is needed. There are two ways to do it. If they’re really young silently remove them from the high chair for about 30 seconds, and then invite them back telling them they need to eat the nice way. This up and down process can happen 10 times in 5 minutes to make your point and that’s normal.
    The other option is, shameless plug coming…to use our Correcting Toddlers or Correcting Preschools seminar. I’m pleased to announce that we have re-branded our site with the help of a popular Moxie contributor, The Milliner. To celebrate we’re offering a 2 for 1 sale and new free gift. If you like the site, please tell the Milliner, she does amazing work. Come by and see if we can help. Shameless plug over.
    If any of you watched Oprah with Geneen Roth of Women, Food and God, you know that creating food issues is not what we want to do. You know the old saying, he won’t be wearing diapers when he graduates from high school. Well, at the very least the peer group will make a comment or two if a child continues to eat without manners! Enjoy dinner.

  45. 18 months seems a little young to stress about manners. You COULD start working on it now, but it’s probably like potty training – you could start before the kid’s ready and it may take a year, or wait until the kid understands/is on board and it may take a week. Why spin your wheels? Having a toddler who enjoys experiencing a wide variety of healthy foods is way more important than having a kid who doesn’t put his elbows on the table. That said, I know the feeling you’re having, because I had it too when my son was that age. I felt like other kids were using forks, and my kid was like a lion attacking a zebra carcass. But now he’s 3.5, an excellent eater, AND is starting to pick up on the whole manners thing.

  46. I’m LOL at the discussions about cutlery as my DS decided at some point that he was “big” (he’s 3) and therefore needed big cutlery. If not provided with adequately large implements he’d hop down and go get out serving forks and spoons (and yes, I let him … I figured, correctly, it was a phase and correctly or incorrectly that it wasn’t worth making an issue about it). He went through about a week of insisting on eating his oatmeal with a ladle (guess what? that didn’t work).Honestly, forget the forks, spoons, and napkins; if I could just get my DH not to bring his laptop to the table and my extended family in general not to answer their cell phones while at a meal (or to excuse themselves first), I’d be happy. Forget the toddler, it’s the adults whose manners bother me.

  47. I guess I’m alone then in really not giving a crap about stains on children’s shirts. I have never in my life put any energy into getting stains out of any item of clothing (including mine). Yep, you can often tell that the bops ate pasta with tomato sauce several weeks ago wearing that shirt, but if anyone really thinks that toddlers keep their clothes pristine or judges us for not putting our time into prevention or laundry, well, I really don’t care what they think of us.I say that knowing perfectly well that my mother cares a great deal whether or not my toddler’s clothes look clean.

  48. My 3.5 year old still eats like a heathen, but I think this has more to do with rebelling than anything else.My then 3 year old son, really improved his table manners when he started kinder. They have mixed classes and the bigger kids teach the little kids a whole lot of cool things including how to hold their cutlery. I was amazed to see my son actully correcting how he held his fork and saying such and such taught him how to do it.
    As others have pointed out, I really don’t care much at this point how my kids eat as long as they don’t use their hand, or use them appropriately (say, when eating a drumstick). I know correct table manners will rub off on them at school (they have sit down meals)and from us at home.

  49. I would like to point out, just to be a total grump about this, that in fact many people do grow up and go through life with appalling table manners. I’m not saying it doesn’t hurt them — I was once seated at a business dinner next to someone who had never mastered utensils, and the bigwig next to him was clearly scraping together all the sang froid he could manage but was also, clearly, taking note — but they go on, oblivious.So giving them a heads-up about what’s expected, at appropriate ages, is worthwhile. I will occasionally excuse a child from the table if things are really awful. But then I am one who does not have to worry about whether my child is eating enough. I know I’m lucky that my kids don’t have metabolic issues and can go hungry until the snack opportunity to eat comes along.

  50. Oh, boy. This one raised a whole lot of anxiety for me, not because my 4-year-old’s *eating* manners are poor, but because her general ability to be present with her meal (and the company at the table) is atrocious. She cannot, will not eat more than two bites without huge intervention and encouragement. In desperation, I still find myself either a) voicing her food like cartoon characters (“I’m mister cucumber! I want to go in your belly and play!”) or b) putting spoonfuls of food into her mouth after 10 minutes of trying to refocus her attention on her meal, and seeing *clearly* that she needs to get her blood sugar back in order, ASAP. She wiggles, chatters, gets under the table, gets up to “just get one more thing!” and so on. I don’t expect her to sit perfectly still, to be sure. Nor do I expect her to sit for 45 minutes while the adults finish their meal. But I cannot for the life of me figure out how to get her to sit, eat an appropriate amount, and flipping stop climbing under the table to pretend she’s a squirrel! Worst is when she’s at the table with her 3-year-old cousin, and she eggs him on.I’m doing somethign wrong, aren’t I?
    (As for eating manners, she’s doing OK — when she eats. Still uses her fingers a lot for big pieces of pasta, broccoli, etc, but it doesn’t bother me for now.)

  51. Amy,It’s time to start letting her have responsibility for her actions & the consequences therein.
    Right now, you’re doing all the work (cajoling, entertaining, forcing). By 4 years old, she has the ability to understand “Now is the time for eating, not playing…” BUT: you have to back this up. I give my 4 year old options and a time-line for things like eating or getting ready for bed. Goes like this:
    Dinner is time for eating, not singing. You can sing AFTER you eat your dinner.
    Dinner will be over (or lights will go out) in TEN minutes. (Then I give 2 minute updates – 8 minutes, 6 minutes, 4 minutes, 2 minutes — with NO CAJOLING — this takes enormous effort from me!) If she doesn’t get dessert because she was playing more than eating, or if she says “my tummy is rumbeling” because she didn’t eat enough, the response is “How sad. Breakfast will be in the morning.” or “How sad. You were having so much fun talking that you forgot to eat your dinner. Well, you’ll have a great breakfast in the morning.” – said with a smile, not a sneer or snarky tone.
    This gives her CONTROL over her own consequences. I’ve noticed, too that my daughter likes to socialize at dinner first, then, if I leave her alone as described above, she magically digs into her meal just as mentally, I’ve started to think about having to intervene.
    We also “negotiate” about how many bites she needs to have before she gets dessert. And we, not she, defines if a bite is really a bite. It makes a bit of a game as she gets to practice her counting, but also takes ego (mine & hers) out of the equation. Sometimes, I’ll say she needs 5 bites, sometimes 10 (depending on what she’s already grazed on, when the next meal will be, what her temperament is doing — pesky low blood sugar!)
    I hope this makes sense!

  52. Original poster here. Thank you all for your suggestions. These data points are exactly what I was looking for and I’m sure I will go through them to pull out new ideas many more times in the weeks to come.Now that I reflect a bit on my motivation to send Moxie my original email, I realize I was looking for some reassurance (from someone other than my mother…who is thrilled to see Moxie refer to her as “genius”) that my mealtime approach hasn’t been way off.
    My husband and I are Americans living in Southeast Asia the last two years. My son was born here. I don’t see many children my son’s age out in restaurants and I take him out to eat often because it’s cheap, delicious, and gives me a break from post-meal cleaning. When I do see toddlers out, I characterize their parents’ mealtime feeding technique as the “baby bird approach.” The parents typically dangle food out for their children using their fingers or chopsticks and the kids simply open wide, their hands well away from the food.
    My blue-eyed, blond son already attracts a ton of attention but we’re quite the circus sideshow when he’s smeared sauce all over his face, his bib is coated, and a small circle of veggies and noodles rings his high chair. I’ve gotten good at zoning out most of the attention but I don’t think we’re helping to debunk the “ugly American” perceptions.
    On the flip side, I started a mothers’ support group, which now has 20+ members from around the world. We meet weekly, often over lunch or snack time. Many of my son’s playmates in this group have extraordinary self-feeding skills. (One 14-month-old Japanese baby can consistently, and without prompting, clasp her hands together in a little prayer, bow her head, then crack and peel her hard-boiled egg and eat it with a fork!) But when I ask the moms how they taught these skills, something gets lost in translation and I’m still stumped.
    While I make a valiant effort to get everyone’s food on the table at the same time so we can eat dinner together, my son often needs to eat before my husband arrives so my hubby supervises the tail end of his meal while I finish preparing the adult dishes. When DH supervises, he follows more rules than I do: no toys at the table, sit in the high chair with the tray, use a sippy cup instead of a cup and straw, eat with utensils. We both agree that our son should not put his feet on the table, throw food, or stand in his high chair but I allow DS to feed his goose and other toys, use his hands liberally, use a straw to sip from a small plastic cup, and sit in his high chair without the tray. I prefer my messier but calmer approach.
    Hubby and his relatives (who watch my son during meal times via weekly video chat) are all of the opinion that son’s “table manners” should be farther along. Perhaps I am experiencing culture clashes on several fronts: foreign and sometimes befuddling public expectations, and my husband’s southern background versus my hippy left coast upbringing.
    For now, I’ve already read a few of your posts to my DH and will encourage him to read more. I plan to try a few of your specific suggestions (wet washcloth, smaller utensils, etc.) and pretty much just keep on keepin’ on. Thanks again!

  53. @Amy I mostly agree with SusanOR’s advice but (although my son is generally a good, if not neat, eater) am also empathetic to the thought that at least occasionally we just need to get some food into the kid’s belly so they aren’t totally crabby when we (get in the car / go grocery shopping / get to the pool) … whatever.In this regard, 3 things that have worked for us are …
    1. I mislabel food, e.g. hand DS a bowl of grapes and say, “Mmmmm, here are some yummy crackers!” He apparently finds this funny enough to play along by eating the “crackers.”
    2. If DS doesn’t eat enough at dinner (especially), knowing that I want him to sleep through the night and not wake up hungry at 3 a.m., I’ll give him a short list of acceptable pre-bedtime snacks (“Would you like to eat a banana or a slice of toast before your bath?”). These have to be simple, healthy, and not-too-numerous (i.e. he doesn’t get to choose from a list of 10, just 2 or maybe 3).
    3. Last but not least, desperate times (e.g. I broke my arm at 5 p.m. and my mom was driving me and DS to the hospital at just the time when we should have been preparing dinner, and who-knew-how-long-that-would-take) call for desperate measures, which in my book include microwave popcorn (the choice that evening and he ate THE WHOLE BAG), goldfish crackers, and granola bars, 3 foods he’ll eat really reliably. For the record, his dad feeds him these foods casually but I consider them processed and therefore, a rarity … different approaches …

  54. Informative post! I like the pictures in your website, they’re impressive. Also, the idea in your post is quit eyes catching, too. Defenitely, I can learn something from your web. So, thank you again. Hope you a good day!!!

  55. League contributions through the summer months and also for his dulcet English tones on the sideline during the Socceroos international games on local radio. Ned is part of the ABCNeither is packed with enough power, especially considering that the W100 has two displays, so don’t expect to be able to stray too far from an outlet for very long.a staple of football, football, football!

  56. Try calorie shnitfig, the idea behind the diet is to instead of avoiding food, embrace it and use it to your benefit to improve your metabolism. This way you’ll actually continue to burn fat even once you stop the diet.The major problem with all diets that limit your calorie intake is that they as a result weaken and lower the effect of your metabolism on the foods you eat and actually make your body much more prone to storing calories as a result. Much like when an animal goes into hibernation, your body will go into scarcity mode and begin holding onto anything it can.That’s the main reason that people experience rebound effects from diets. Calorie shnitfig actually does it right because it changes the way your body utilizes food and as a result you lose weight and keep it off when you stop.I’ll throw in a link to a popular calorie shnitfig diet program in my source box for you to learn more about it.

  57. I’m going on a trip this summer for 3 weeks out east (I’m from BC) and I’ve retlcney started doing an hour of cardio everyday, as well it eating healthy. But I’m afraid this trip will mess everything up. Unfortunately, there won’t be much cardio machines, we will be eating out a lot. Can you please give me any suggestions on how to keep my exercise and healthy eating going throughout this trip?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *