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how to teach dinner party manners to kids

With fall coming fast upon us, our schedules have become more and more filled with birthday parties, dinners, evening gatherings, and a myriad of other table activities all necessitating that my three year olds act like they know how to behave in public situations. Thankfully, we’ve actually worked quite a bit on honing the kids party manners behind the scenes. Here’s how we’ve done it.

We have what we’ve affectionately coined around here as “manners on” and “manners off” nights. The idea is simple – most nights we just have a normal dinner, like every other family has. About 90% of our meals are just served up as is, no fanfare whatsoever.

But, about once a week, we host a “manners on” meal. This meal is practice – and practice is what a toddler needs if you’d like them to behave a certain way. We practice sitting at the table with our backs straight. We lay out the utensils and choose the correct one for the dish in front of us. We eat slowly and politely, and even practice our dinner conversation with each other. We all sit at the table until everyone is done and practice what it means to be polite at a dinner party.

Another night during the week we tell the kid’s it is “manners off” and they can act like complete three year-olds! Apart from flying food, we try not to correct many issues on these nights. Sometimes it’s pizza in front of the TV, or pasta at the table that ends up everywhere (how do they do that!?!). We let them use the utensils they are comfortable with, and we all make a point to be quite laid back.

The whole process has become great fun and they love practicing their manners. When we go out to a party, or dinner at a friends house, we quietly whisper to them that this is a “manners on” meal and they instantly know how to act. They aren’t perfect (and that isn’t the point of it anyway), but they are learning the importance of manners in social situations in a fun way. They are also learning what it means to relax and have a blast when it is time for that. It is the perfect mesh of my husband’s background and mine.


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  1. This is so perfect! You’ve made table manners into a game, and with the cute wording and the lower frequency of ‘manners on’, it makes that chance to practice their manners fun. Now what kid can say that!? Parenting A+

  2. What a great idea. My three year old twins usually use good manners RIGHT UP until mealtime. Then I’m cranky and they feed off of it. I like this idea a lot! Thanks for sharing. And adorable photos!

    • Meghan, I can totally be cranky at meal time too:) Making a game out of anything I think helps this age get into it- and helps me too! Let me know if you try it and how it goes.

  3. Such a terrific idea! My parents traveled with us, and by extension we ate at some pretty nice restaurants, so we learned very quickly that if we wanted to hang with the grown ups and eat the good food, we’d better behave!

  4. What a great and fun idea! I don’t have kids myself, but a lot of my friends struggle with this same problem. It’s amazing that your 3 year olds already have an idea of dinner-party manners. It’s so adorable!

  5. Love this! I remember my mom doing her own version of this when we were little. I especially remember how sad I was that spaghetti nights turned into learning nights: how to properly twirl your spaghetti in case we had to eat it in a restaurant or at other people’s homes. :)

  6. My sister did this when my niece was little, the nights when they did “manners off” were called ‘pirate manners.’ My niece once said the only good thing about when Mommy was sick were the nights of non-stop pirate manners.

  7. Somehow when we were little, my brother and I acted like a “lady and gentleman” when we were out or visiting someone or when staying around other people. Of course the total contrast of how we behaved at home. As the times are changing though the premisses are my children will me even more crazy and spoiled than we were, so a little positive discipline and smart teaching would be so helpful. Thank you for sharing this activity of your family :)

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