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 her lap, she is getting to the age where you can start to teach her 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 her 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 her to use them each mealtime. Offer child-sized utensils with every meal, and correct Baby if you see her drop them in favor of her hands. Finger-feeding is definitely a faster way to eat, but it’s also considerably messier. Offering toddler silverware that she can hold and maneuver easily may cut down on the temptation to switch to using her 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 her to grip, and fill it less than halfway with liquid. Help her move the cup to her mouth slowly, keeping two hands on the cup as she drinks.
- 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 her mouth closed before it turns into a habit that will be more difficult to break. By starting to talk to her about it when she’s young, you’re increasing the chance that she will be more open to modeling your behavior, so be sure to show her the right way to chew. Because of her age, she will probably need plenty of reminders before chewing with her 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 her to eat. If you’ve ditched the high chair, it’s difficult to keep her in her seat, which means she may feel like hopping up from the table earlier than you’re ready to let her go from the dinner table. One way to start to curb this behavior is to take a look at how she’s sitting. If you have her 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 her seat seem a little more enticing, and to keep her occupied if she is 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.