“Get your elbows off the table!” We can all still hear our parents directing us to be polite during dinnertime. While these memories may now seem old-fashioned, having good manners will never go out of style. Every meal should serve as an opportunity for your kids to practice proper etiquette. From putting a napkin in their lap to clearing their plate off the table and everything in between, read on for the table manners your kids should know by age 10.

photo: Peachtree Etiquette

1. Place your napkin in your lap before eating.

Bite-sized etiquette: At the start of family dinner, or at more formal affairs, after the host has done so, place your napkin in your lap. Little kids can fold their napkin in half to make it smaller and keep it in place. Having something in the kids’ lap is a great reminder not to lick food off their fingers! Use the napkin to wipe hands clean instead.

2. Unless told otherwise, wait until everyone is seated and served to begin eating.

Bite-sized etiquette: This rule varies based on how formal or casual the meal is and whether it’s buffet-style. Some hosts will also insist you start eating immediately if the food is hot (so it doesn’t go cold while you wait). The best rule of thumb here: if they aren’t sure, teach kids to show consideration by asking if they can start their meal once served or whether they should wait.

photo: Providence Doucet via Unsplash

3. How to hold cutlery properly and (for older kids) how to cut food with a fork and knife.

Bite-sized etiquette: Once your toddler graduates from finger foods to a spoon or fork, teach her how to hold and use cutlery properly from the get-go––and also that she should bring food up to her mouth instead of leaning over to eat. Once appropriate, teach your kids how to cut their own food using a fork and knife. Here’s a recent guide to fork and knife etiquette.

4. Don’t talk while there’s food in your mouth.

Bite-sized etiquette: This seems simple enough, but sometimes even adults have trouble waiting to say something until they’ve swallowed their food. Remind kids to chew with their mouth closed, not to slurp soup, spaghetti noodles, or the end of a smoothie through a straw and for goodness sakes, not to burp. When it comes to the act of eating food, the quieter a diner is, the better.

photo: Hannah Tasker via Unsplash

5. Don’t play with your food.

Bite-sized etiquette: With so many hand-held foods in the mix: tacos, fries, nuggets, pizza, hard-boiled eggs, etc., kids may find it tempting to play with their meal. But let young diners know they should stick to eating their food instead of making it double as a toy (Not included in this scenario: pretending diced veggies are on a choo-choo train spoon ride down to a tiny tot’s tummy).

photo: Pixabay

6. Double-dipping is a no-no.

Bite-sized etiquette: To avoid sharing germs and to practice common courtesy, don’t double-dip! Instead, if you spot salsa, ranch, guacamole or hummus, serve yourself the amount you want of these communal dishes onto your own plate, and then dip as much as you want into that individual portion. Think it’s no big deal to plunge that bitten chip into the guac a second time? Read this to see why even science says you shouldn’t do it!

7. Ask for out of reach food to be passed to you. 

Bite-sized etiquette: Never lean over the table to access an out of reach item. Simply say, “Please pass the peas” and wait for the person closest to the dish to send them your way. Easy peasy!

8. Don’t complain about what food is being served.

Bite-sized etiquette: This is a huge one! Every parent has cooked a meal only to be met with moans and groans once it’s served. Appreciation and respect for what has been prepared need to start at the home table. Kids may be a guest at grandma’s or a friend’s house, and they need to learn to be grateful and have good manners for what food is placed on the table there too (Note: this advice is in the absence of food allergies or diet restrictions—in which cases kids should always voice what they can and can’t eat).

photo: Dan Gold via Unsplash

9. No electronic devices (or toys) at the table.

Bite-sized etiquette: This modern-day tip starts with parents. Practice what you preach and don’t allow smartphones or any electronic devices or toys anywhere near the dinner table. Also, refrain from answering phone calls, emails or texts until the meal is over. Recent studies show that almost half of parents share fewer meals with their families today than they did as kids and “57% of parents agree that even when they eat together as a family, some of their family members are distracted by technology.” (source) Set the tone at your dinner table that the family meal is a tech-free zone––especially since everyone sitting down to eat together is oftentimes a rare occurrence in our busy lives.

10. Stay at the dinner table until everyone is finished eating and then ask to be excused, clear your plate, push in your chair and say thank you for the meal. 

Bite-sized etiquette: Family dinners should include everyone enjoying each other’s company until the last person has finished eating. If a kiddo needs to leave the table before then, he/she should ask for permission to be excused. At meal’s end, have kids clear their own plate and offer to clear others if necessary, then end the meal by saying thank you.


What’s your number one rule for table manners in your house? Share in the comments.

––Beth Shea


table manners