I think sometimes we forget that table manners are learned behavior. We’ve been eating our spaghetti with a fork for so long that when we’re confronted with the task of teaching our babies how to eat, it’s a little overwhelming. Sometimes it’s just easier to spoon feed them or limit them to “neat” foods. They’ll never learn, though, unless they practice on their own. Bring out the bibs, the miniature forks, and the spaghetti; it’s time to learn table manners!
First of all, have a list of goals or milestones in mind and work towards just one at a time. For example, do you want your child to learn how to keep her hands off her hair while she is eating, focus on that one behavior during meal time. Don’t worry too much about the other “mistakes” she makes, but whenever she is about to shampoo her head with red sauce, stop her and calmly explain that messy hands need to stay on her plate or in her mouth.
Second of all, remember to be extremely patient. Kids really do not have any common sense when it comes to table manners. If anything, conventional table manners go against our natural tendencies. It takes a long time to teach a child how to properly hold a fork. It’s okay if your toddler holds its more like a shovel than a pencil. Just be happy he or she is making an effort.
Make sure your family eats dinner together. Your child will learn much more from your example than she will from your explanations. Simply eating in front of her at each meal (as opposed to feeding her first and then letting her play while you scramble to eat your dinner over the kitchen counter before cleaning up) will teach her a lot about table manners. It will also spark her interest in using utensils and eating off a plate.
When your toddler does something right, like eating her applesauce with a spoon instead of her fingers, make sure to offer a lot of praise so she’ll want to do it again. Get some fun, colorful plates and utensils that are her size. Utensils with big rubbery grips are also great for little hands to grasp.