Table manners

Grumpy at the table

What can we expect of our children when it comes to sitting at the table and table manners?

I’d thought I’d address this today as it is something that has come up a few times recently and has been the cause of some conflict between parents as a result of their differing mealtime experiences growing up and therefore how they each set their boundaries around this with their children. 

Let’s start with how long we should expect children to sit at the table for a meal. 

We can probably expect snack time to be around 10-15 minutes. Whilst it is better and safer for children to sit at the table for a snack, we do tend to be more fluid around the rules here because snacks are often eaten whilst out and about and in the middle of an activity. So, whilst allowing flexibility around this, I would still encourage you to have your child sit for their snack, wherever that might be. 

When it comes to lunch and dinner, the average time might be between 20 and 30 minutes. Whilst this is the time we might expect of a child around 4/5 years and above, for toddlers, we may find that they will only sit at snack time for more like 5-10 minutes and at mealtimes for 10-15 minutes.

Sitting still at the table for a prolonged period or for a whole meal can be a challenge and is definitely something that we need to work towards and can’t expect it to be something our children do perfectly from the outset or even every mealtime once they are able to.

Ensuring we’re calm, making the dinner table a place our child wants to be, encouraging the social aspects of eating and injecting some fun into the mealtime will all help encourage them to stay longer. 

I attended a session a couple of weeks ago about the Language of Food and as part of that we looked at table manners. In a book called Lessons on Manners for School and Home Use from 1884, there was a wonderfully appropriate statement. “No one should be allowed to scold or find fault at meal time. Cheerful conversation is good for digestion as well as enjoyment.”

So, similarly, our ideals around table manners, for example, using cutlery, what to do if you don’t like something or when you’ve had enough, waiting for everyone to finish before asking for pudding or how to be excused from the table, takes time to learn.

Role modelling the behaviour we’d like to see, talking to children gently about how we behave at the table, supporting them to learn away from the table as well as many, many reminders will help them learn over time. 

So just with other aspects of our child’s mealtime learning, we really need to take it one step at a time and manage our expectations. 

If you need more help with managing the stresses of mealtimes, please do message me to chat about how I can able to support you. 

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