Thanksgiving dinner is such a special time. You’re surrounded by friends and family and about to enjoy a delicious feast at a beautifully set, festive table. With your kids. But not to worry! We’ve compiled a list of age-appropriate table manners to help you set your expectations, just in time for the holidays.

Before you lay down the law, make sure your child understands why it’s important to use good manners at the table – mainly that eating together as a family is important to you and that it’s more fun for everyone when the whole family follows certain rules. Then practice, practice, practice! Don’t wait until the big day. Be consistent with your table rules and practice at home and in restaurants for several weeks prior to turkey day, praising your kids for using good manners and gently correcting forgotten rules.

Speaking of expectations, depending on your child’s age, you may need to lower yours, but most children, even preschoolers, can master the manners below:

  1. Sitting Still – Okay, maybe just sitting would be a more realistic goal. But your young child does need to remain in his seat during his meal. Expecting him to make it through a four-course meal without moving is somewhat unrealistic, but he should remain seated – not under the table, standing up, or running around – while he eats his own meal, and then be excused to play quietly while the adults finish their food.
  2. Inside Voice – Special occasions and unfamiliar faces can get preschoolers excited, and excitement can lead to, yes, yelling. Remind your little one that mealtime is a quiet time, where we talk in quiet, inside voices. Be sure to engage your child during the meal or task an older sibling with chatting her up – little ones can get loud when they’re feeling ignored.
  3. Hands Off – Make sure your kids understand that their food will be served to them, on a plate, and the plate (or their mouths) is where it should stay. Rather than reaching or grabbing for what they want, help them learn to ask, politely, for more of something. And, conversely, food that’s on their plates should stay there (versus being put back in a serving dish or thrown across the room).
  4. Please and Thank You – Preschoolers love to please! Odds are, they’re already great at saying please and thank you and mealtime is just another place to practice these good manners. Model saying thank you when you’re served and using please when asking for seconds or refills and give kudos to your kids when they do the same.

 

Older kids who have mastered the four rules above are capable of learning more advanced table etiquette (and modeling it nicely for your little ones), including:

  • Waiting until everyone has been served to take a first bite of food.
  • Placing their napkins in their laps. And using them. Save those sleeves!
  • Keeping negative feedback about the food to themselves. If you don’t have something nice to say…
  • Sitting up straight. And maybe even participating in the group conversation!
  • Asking to be excused, when there’s a break in the conversation.

 

By setting realistic, age-appropriate expectations, being clear about them with your kids, and practicing, practicing, practicing, holiday meals will be more enjoyable for everyone. Happy Thanksgiving!