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tea party manners for kids

Teaching my kids how to act appropriately at parties is a high value around here. Having young children around can either make a party the best or the make it the absolute worst few hours of your week (all depending on how they act!). Last fall I shared how we teach our kids dinner party manners. With Mother’s Day approaching, we are planning for our yearly tea.

Tea party manners are some of my favorite to teach. I grew up going to birthday and Christmas teas, where a wonderful lady was always very proper and specific about the gloves, hats, and the rules we would use. She taught the rules in a way that made them so fun to learn. I’ve loved teaching these traditional manners in the same spunky way to my daughter. They’ve boosted her self confidence and have made my life a little less ummm… crazy.

Here are a few specific and really fun tea manners to teach to your kids for the next tea party, or to teach your friends for the next viewing of Downton Abbey.

1) Pinkies up! Tea is to be sipped by holding the cup with your thumb and index finger. The ring finger should rest gently against the lower portion of the cup and the pinkie should be up in the air.

This practice dates back to the 1600’s when women were not permitted to speak (most often) at the table. To communicate they developed a specific language by using movements of their pinkies to share secrets over tea.

2) Stir the tea gently without clanking the sides of the tea cup. A small figure eight will suffice for mixing in the cream and sugar. This strawberry tea is a great de-caf option for little ones.

3) At the table, teach the girls to always defer to the host. Wait patiently standing at your chair for the host to pull hers back, then sit down gently from the left side of the chair (to prevent bumping into each other and the table).

4) Sit correctly with one hand gently resting on your plate, one on your lap, and your elbows always clear from the table. If you see a friend at the table sitting incorrectly, there is a simple song that should be sung “Mabel, mabel this is not a stable… please remove your elbow from the table”.

5) When you’d like to pass any item around the table, they should always be passed right to left and softly asked for to your direct neighbor. Never ask across the table in a loud voice. If the table is large, the request might have to go softly through 3 or 4 neighbors. This not only tecahes patience and manners, but creates a fun game of telephone at the table. When a guest asks for sugar, always respond asking them if they’d like, “one lump, or two.”

6) Lastly, enjoy the tea! The service should begin after the host rings the tea bell. Teach the guests to respond in grace by sitting up straight and at attention when the bell is rung.

As a simple game to play towards the end of tea service, the host should ring the bell three times and then offer it to one of the girls to ring whenever they see another guest begining to get restless. Everytime the bell is rung, all small children at the table should stand up and sing “I’m a little tea pot.” The girls just love this tradition and, of course, end up acting quite silly while they sing. It is a fun game to reward a tea well done.

Photography done in collaboration with Jocelyn Noel Photography.


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  1. Your daughter is adorable, her dress is fantastic, your table runner is amazing, and tea party manners are my favorite and will come in handy very soon.

  2. My grandmother sang a slightly modified version of that to me. “Brantley, Brantley, strong and able. Get your elbows off the table.”

    Thanks for the post. My wife knows I love tea and I can really see my 1 year old daughter enjoying this daddy-daughter time when she gets a little older.

  3. Oh, what fun! My parents used fancy restaurants (we were always the only kids) to celebrate the end of the school year to teach us to be on our very best behavior. That, and taking us home the moment we started to misbehave–I assure you, it only happened once!

  4. Our song was, “Get your elbows off the table, [first and last name]! Get your elbows off the table, [first and last name]! We have seen you do it twice, and you know it isn’t nice. Get your elbows off the table, [first and last name]!” :)

  5. I am planning a tea party for my daughter’s 14th birthday and many of these things still apply! Thanks so much! Great ideas!

  6. Please don’t teach anyone to put up their pinky when drinking tea, it’s classed as rude in England. You wouldn’t want them to behave incorrectly on a visit to London now would you. Off with their head and the tower. Tut tut. I am English and a chef and I cater for many tea parties!

  7. Yes, as others have said, sticking out the pinky is terribly bad form. The order of eating the food is important. Sandwich and any other savoury first, scone next and cakes last. Small bites at all times and the knife is NOT used to cut the scone (pronounced sk-on, not sk-own). You break off a bite sized piece with your fingers then apply butter, jam and clotted cream to the small piece then pop into your mouth. Napkins are placed on the table to the left of the plate if you have to go to the lavatory and at the end of the meal.
    Incidentally the term rest room, toilet or bathroom are never used in Royal circles. It is lavatory, as the signs at Buckingham Palace make clear.

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