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Skill School: Table Tableau: The 21st Century Family Dinner Scene

Elbows off the table. Napkin in your lap. Chew with your mouth closed. Thinking about teaching my little one all of the rules that he must know to have good table manners exhausts me, especially since I still struggle to get him to sit in his seat for the duration of his meal. If you are like me and dinner time around the table is more hectic than you would like, have no fear; you are not alone. Today’s lesson will explore ways to help make dinner time more enjoyable for all. So, welcome back to Skill School. Class is now in session!

Using Utensils—Think about it. Babies drink from bottles and /or nurse until they are old enough to start solid foods. Once eating solid foods, parents tend to use utensils to feed them, and then at some point, the children become interested in using those utensils to feed themselves. Alternatively, some parents choose baby led weaning and go straight from bottles and nursing to feeding themselves by using their hands. Regardless of the method, using utensils is one skill that all children will need time to develop. Be sure to have small, children sized utensils for them to use as they start learning. Soft, plastic options are available and may be the best option for our youngest self-feeders. Go ahead and give them a spoon to hold at mealtime, even if you are the one spooning the applesauce. At the end of the meal, leave a little food so that your little one can practice self-feeding. Expect mess. Go ahead and invest in one of those floor mats because the one commonality in learning to use utensils is the mess—every baby will make a mess when learning how to feed himself.

Sitting Correctly—Have you ever had your child lean back in his chair and prop his feet on the table? I have. However, after a few instances with verbal corrections, the excitement wore off, and this stopped. It is easy to see how and why our little ones might do this. Their bodies are so small, and this allows for them to move more freely. Their little legs are dangling from their chairs. Using a seat that provides some sort of footrest can help our little ones sit comfortably and have a proper place for their feet (since they will not reach the floor for years). Of course, we model this skill each time we sit at the table. Our children see us seating correctly, and in turn, they follow our example. 

Staying in a Seat—If you have an active little one, just sitting in his seat might prove to be a daunting task. This skill is one that you really do want to adjust to accommodate your little one’s needs. If he struggles with this, you may want to start small by setting a time for just a few minutes and working to stay in the seat and eat for those minutes. Gradually increase the seat time, but also be flexible. If the day has been a rough one, maybe we set the timer for two minutes instead of the normal three, or we don’t even “remember” to use it that day. Similarly, you may choose to set a goal to eat one snack a day at the table. Over time, you may add additional snacks and meals, or maybe the expectation is that the sippy cup or drink up will be at the table, and the little one must sit to drink. Keep your expectations realistic and developmentally appropriate. In other words, don’t expect your three-year-old to sit still at the table for twenty minutes while all family members finish their dinner. 

Just remember that this skill and all of those needed to learn good table manners will come naturally as your little one matures. As long as you model your expectations, your little one will eventually meet those expectations, and your family dinner scene will be exactly as you imagined.

About The Author

Beth McKay

Beth McKay holds English degrees from Millsaps and Mississippi College; she has been teaching English to students in Rankin County since 2006 and working as an adjunct instructor for Hinds Community College since 2010. Beth is married to her high school sweetheart and is the mother of three precious children. When Beth isn’t teaching or spending time with her family, she enjoys reading and writing.

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