In what my husband would call “typical boy fashion”, we have moments at the table of which I am not proud.  Moments of bodily noises, discussions that tend to curb many an appetite and, in general, not the greatest manners on the block.  So, to encourage my boys to be better behaved at dinner at home, I tried a few ideas.  My thought is, if we practice good manners at home, we’ll have an easier time remembering them when we’re out or at a friend’s house.

While none of these are the end-all, beat-all solution to teaching your children manners, they are some great ideas to encourage that kind of behavior.  Of course, the best solution is consistency and modeling.  If you want good manners, then SHOW good manners, and ENCOURAGE good manners.  These ideas lend themselves well to that theory.

  1. Make it a tangible award.  We recycled an old trophy of my husband’s to be our “Manner Trophy”.  Each evening (you could also stretch it out over the course of a week with older kids), we present one child with the Manner Trophy for outstandingly good manners at the table (or the most improved for those that aren’t quite there but are trying really hard!).  That child gets to temporarily keep the trophy until the next award ceremony.  Old medals and ribbons also work well for this.
  2. Make it a game.  We made a list of rules we wanted our boys to follow while eating a meal, such as “elbows off the table” and “thank the person who prepared the food.”  At the beginning of the meal, each person at the table is given 10 of an object, such as 10 toothpicks or 10 pennies.  During the course of the meal, if someone spots a violation of a rule, he (or she) may politely ask the offender for a toothpick or penny.  The winner of the game is the person with the most objects when the meal is over.  We try to make the “prize” something simple, like a sticker or another little treat, but as a family we try to make it an all-around tie so everyone wins!
  3. Give out simple rewards.  This works well with younger children because the reward can be almost immediate.  Write out on slips of paper some simple rewards, such as reading an extra book at night or playing a board game or getting an extra fifteen minutes before heading to bed.  The rewards can be specific to each child.  Place each child’s reward slips in a special jar or container (we use recycled spaghetti jars labeled with the boys’ names).  When mealtime goes well and the kids use their good manners, each gets to choose a reward slip from his jar.