Let’s face it: toddlers aren’t always the most refined dinner guests. Though it’s unreasonable to expect Baby to sit through a meal with a napkin folded delicately on their lap, they are getting to the age where you can start to teach them the basics of table manners.
Here are some tips for working through common mealtime woes.
- Using utensils: As with all milestones, each toddler will learn to drink from an open cup and use utensils at their own pace. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 18 months is the marker for learning to eat with a spoon, as well as to independently drink from a cup. If Baby has reached these milestones already, you can help strengthen those skills by insisting and reminding them to use them each mealtime. Offer child-sized utensils with every meal, and correct Baby if you see them drop them in favor of their hands. Finger-feeding is definitely a faster way to eat, but it’s also considerably messier. Offering toddler silverware that they can hold and maneuver easily may cut down on the temptation to switch to using their fingers.
- Using a cup: Some parents choose to stick with a sippy cup for now so they can spare their floors, but it’s around this time that others may move to an open cup. If you think Baby might be ready, try a wide cup that’s easy for them to grip, and fill it less than halfway with liquid. Help them move the cup to their mouth slowly, keeping two hands on the cup as they drink.
- Chewing with a closed mouth: Adults know that chewing with your mouth open is considered rude, but toddlers often wonder why it’s such a big deal. Still, it’s important to teach Baby at an early age to chew with their mouth closed before it turns into a habit that will be more difficult to break. By starting to talk to them about it when they're young, you’re increasing the chance that they will be more open to modeling your behavior, so be sure to show them the right way to chew. Because of their age, they will probably need plenty of reminders before chewing with their mouth closed becomes a habit.
- Staying seated: One of the biggest worries parents of toddlers have at mealtime is the struggle of getting a small child to stay seated long enough for them to eat. If you’ve ditched the high chair, it’s difficult to keep them in their seat, which means they may feel like hopping up from the table earlier than you’re ready to let them go from the dinner table. One way to start to curb this behavior is to take a look at how they're sitting. If you have them on a regular chair, for example, consider a padded booster seat for extra comfort – and maybe a little less ease of hopping out. Another thought to consider is that, though mealtime is for eating, restaurants may be onto something when they offer that pack of crayons to little ones. You might consider rotating some fun placemats to make sitting in their seat seem a little more enticing, and to keep them occupied if they are finished eating before the others at the table are ready to be excused.
No one expects toddlers to know the difference between and salad fork and a dessert fork, but these early table-manner basics are a great way for Baby to get started thinking about politeness at mealtime.