Toddler table manners

Thanksgiving will be here in just a few short weeks … are you ready? In preparation, I thought I would offer some insight into teaching your toddler some table manners. After all, the last thing you want is mashed potatoes in the hair and turkey on the floor.

During the toddler stage, children lack impulse control. At dinner, you can expect a child will sit well for only 10 minutes. Beyond that, it will be difficult to keep their attention so the expectation that they sit for an extended amount of time is maybe unreasonable. One suggestion is to practice sitting by setting a large timer where they can see the timer counting down. Consider increasing the time a little bit each time until you have reached a reasonable goal. Also give them something to do while she waits to be excused, such as quietly singing a song, drawing a picture or counting all of the forks at the table.

Contrary to what some believe, when a child throws food it is not bad behavior. Their young brains are still trying to master learning the rules. As tough as it sounds, reinforcing bad behavior with a bad attitude with a toddler only encourages more bad behavior. Consider choosing a phrase such as “Food stays on the plate” (to model the expectation) instead of “Don’t throw food.”

Teach your child that mealtimes are special by turning off the television, putting cell phones away and engaging in conversation. Encourage your toddler to participate if they are beginning to talk. Remember that you are your child’s first teacher, so model the behavior you expect from them. Using manners such as “please” and “thank you” should be a priority.

Constant repetition of pleasant manners is key to building connections in your child’s brain that signal the expected behavior. When your toddler does use the appropriate manners, give them praise or positively acknowledge their behavior. One helpful hint is to consider drawing simple pictures or using photos so children can visualize their mealtime expectations, such as food on the plate (not on the floor).

Meals are a great opportunity to practice and model gratitude, especially during Thanksgiving. By expressing thankfulness for the food, the person who prepared it and the opportunity to share it, you teach your child to be grateful and to understand that the family meal is a special occasion.

From the Iowa River Valley Early Childhood Area Board and Staff, we hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving shared with family and friends.


Carrie Kube is a director for the Iowa River Valley Early Childhood Area Board.


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