Around the age of 1, children have mastered most of the eating and drinking skills they need to be able to eat the same foods that grown-ups do. It’s a time when you may want to start introducing some simple table manners to mealtimes too.
You’ll find our top 5 easy table manners to introduce your little one to, below. Remember, however, that children are still learning how to eat, so some manners won’t come till much later.
Even though your little one may not be able to say the words, they may be able to use baby sign gestures for ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. Try to be a positive role model by using lots of these words and phrases at the table when you eat together.
The main reason for this is good hygiene, as children touch everything (it’s part of how they learn about the world). We don’t want to put them at risk of illness from poor hand hygiene, so washing them before meals is a very good habit. Simply take your child to the sink and wash their hands with them, with warm soapy water, and over time they’ll learn to do this themselves before eating.
Most little ones need to wipe their hands and mouths during a meal. From a sensory perspective baby wipes are really unpleasant, so napkins can work well. However, babies and young toddlers need to get messy with food – it's how they learn to eat – so avoid cleaning them up until the end of the meal and then pass them a warm, wet flannel, so they can start to do it themselves.
Little ones have a habit of throwing food. It can be a developmental trait, or simply a test of object permanence as they drop it over the side of their high chair and look to see where it’s gone! Instead of saying something like “don’t throw food”, tell your toddler what you want them to do instead, for example, “food stays on the table”. You may be reassured to know that food-throwing is usually a short-lived phase, one that tends to end at around 18 months of age.
Mealtimes should be pleasant, sociable occasions, but if there are devices being used then conversation is unlikely to flow. Watching something on a screen whilst eating distracts your child from focusing on the sensory aspects of their food, which is fundamental to their ability to learn about it. Oh, and this rule very much goes for mums and dads too – you must lead by example if you want your children to do the same.