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Top Ten Table Manners for Children

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There's nothing worse at the holidays than your Aunt Gert going off about the atrocious state of little Cameron's table manners. In her day children were seen and not heard, and there's your precious offspring - heard up and down the table. Without the formal environments of the past, and some families not even regularly eating together at the table, it can be difficult to teach kids what is appropriate table behavior. However, no need to worry. Learning manners quickly is easier than you think and this crash course will get kids holiday table ready in the time it takes to carve the ham.

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  1. Say Hello - Simple as it seems, many kids today are not taught basic introduction skills. It can be as simple as greeting a guest or host with eye contact and clearly stating his or her name. It's always safe to use a proper title such as Mr. or Mrs. until the child is instructed otherwise.
  2. Playing Host - Teach kids to take coats and bags at the door. Also, make sure children know how to greet relatives and guests, whether your custom is to hug, kiss, or other greeting. Kids will not necessarily follow your lead unless asked to do so. Kids are also great little catering helpers - put them to work passing hors du'oeuvres. It's old fashioned but it's a great idea!
  3. The Power of No-Thank-You - Whether you are visiting friends or family, there is bound to be at least one food item that your child will simply not eat. Teach kids how to offer up a gracious, yet firm no thank you without further elaboration on just why they are not interested in that stinky pate or moldy cheese.
  4. Sitting Still - Practice before important meals. You can't expect a child to go fro broke on the first try. Remind kids to sit up straight, with their napkins on their laps, and elbows off the table. Remember that it's very difficult for children to sit at a table for a long period of time, especially when their feet don't touch the floor! Excusing them promptly to play video games is a courtesy to everyone.
  5. Passing Food - Teach kids to ask for food rather than reaching across a table. Super proper passing goes from left to right, or counterclockwise. However, common sense says whoever's closest to the peas passes. (That is, if you can get your kid to eat peas.) Children should learn to take at least a bite or two of everything, and compliment the cook(s) appropriately.
  6. Set It Right - Learning proper table setting is the perfect excuse to get your child to set the table every night. This chore ensures he'll always know the fork goes on the left, the spoon and knife on the right.
  7. Wait for the Hostess - Especially at large family gatherings, it can be tempting to dive into your feast while the potatoes are still going around. Saying grace is a nice way to control when people begin to eat. However, if a prayer is not said, teach kids it's okay to begin eating once the hostess has picked up her utensil.
  8. Be a Model - Instead of going on and on about everything a child is not supposed to do at the table, encourage her to look to you as an example. Keeping eyes on mom and dad can help a confused child to see just how to behave. Of course that means you need to be a worthy role model.
  9. Table Talk - It's never too early to teach kids how to make some pleasant conversation. Arm children with a few open ended questions they can ask if the time comes. They should also know, however, that when adults present they need to defer to them and not to interrupt.
  10. Smile - A smile washes over a thousand sins. Children who are sweet at the table can get away with just about anything. The best part about eating with friends and family is the companionship anyway. Don't get so focused on the proper etiquette that you forget to instill in your children the enjoyment of a good meal. The rules can be taught anytime.

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