I recently had the pleasure, for real, of spending time with all three of my nieces. The experience that prompted me to write this piece was the time spent with my sister’s girls, ages 5 and 8. This is not about them but about the people I observed while on our trip to Disney World.

Did everyone lose their manners and common courtesies? Are they taught to children? Are they encouraged by parents? Did I miss the memo?

We live in a society where screens and packed schedules dominate our realities, and teaching children and adolescents about table manners might seem trivial. However, instilling these fundamental etiquettes is important, and they lay the groundwork for invaluable social skills throughout life. Whether dining at home, in a restaurant, or with peers, here are just a few reasons why I think acquiring table manners in children and adolescents matters:

  1. Respect and Consideration: Table manners are a tangible expression of respect and consideration for others. By teaching children to wait their turn, use utensils properly, and engage in polite conversation, we instill empathy and awareness of others’ needs. These small acts of courtesy create a positive dining environment and encourage mutual respect among diners.
  2. Social Confidence: As children and adolescents navigate social interactions, knowing how to conduct themselves at the table can boost their confidence and self-assurance. Understanding basic table etiquette, such as holding utensils and engaging in polite conversation, equips them with the skills to navigate diverse dining situations quickly and gracefully.
  3. Family Bonding: Family meals provide valuable opportunities for bonding and communication. By incorporating table manners into mealtime routines, parents can create a nurturing environment where children learn to share, listen, and connect with family members. These shared experiences foster a sense of belonging and strengthen family ties.
  4. Health and Nutrition: Table manners encourage mindful eating practices, which are essential for promoting healthy habits and well-being. Teaching children to eat slowly, enjoy the experience, and pay attention to portion sizes fosters a healthy relationship with food and reduces the risk of overeating. By practicing good manners at the table, children develop lifelong habits that contribute to their overall health and nutrition.
  5. Preparation for the Future: As children grow into adolescents and young adults, knowledge of table manners becomes increasingly important in social and professional settings. Whether dining with friends, attending formal events, or participating in job interviews, understanding proper etiquette sets adolescents apart, enhances their social competence, and improves their professional prospects. Did you know that some colleges/university programs require some students to attend business etiquette training for meals because students do not know how to behave appropriately in such settings?

I firmly believe that cultivating table manners in children and adolescents is about more than just following rules; it’s about promoting essential life skills that contribute to their personal and social development. So, to answer your question, children between 18 months and two years can use a child-safe fork. Children at age five can learn to use a fork and knife properly.

Let me know what you think. Am I too old-school about this?
Dr. Marnee