Ask Mrs Manners: Taming the Messy Eater

Practicing her impeccable table manners!

Photo by Peajewel

The toddler years are the perfect age to start teaching your kids manners. And MrsManners aka: Angela Pitrie, owner of the CM group Manners for the Modern Family and, is here to help. 

Dear MrsManners,

My daughter is messy when she eats. My husband sits across from her every night yelling at her, telling her to use manners. Now he's calling her a "monster" when she eats and tells her she looks "disgusting." He thinks this is the right way to teach table manners -- that this is what discipline is all about, but I don't agree.

I understand a child needs to learn manners, but she is still young. I feel so bad for her. I want to know how other 4 year olds eat at the dinner table so I can show my husband. Help me explain to him that there is a different way to go about this!  -- tuesday28


MrsManners says:

Most 4 year olds are still a little messy! They are just beginning to learn, so there will be times when they don't have perfect manners. This doesn't make her a naughty little girl, this makes her a child who still needs time to perfect these skills, and most importantly, she needs to see the behavior you want her to have. 

I can never stress this point enough, be the person you want your child to be

I am sad to say that your husband is probably doing more harm than good with his current teaching method. Children learn by example, repetition and positive reinforcement. Your husband is only teaching your daughter that it is okay to yell and call people names. Teaching a child how to be disrespectful is completely the opposite of teaching them good manners.  

So, let's explore how we can help your 4 year old acquire the kind of table manners that your husband would like to see. My first suggestion would be to buy a set of play dishes, including a plate, knife, fork, spoon, and cup, and have a play party (feel free to PM me and I will tell you the set I use in my classes). 

Practice setting the table. Here is a great little tip that I use in class: The silverware goes in alphabetical order from left to right. Fork to the left of the plate, knife and spoon on the right, and if you really want to get fancy and she seems into it, then show her that the blade of the knife always faces the plate. Treat it like a puzzle, mix everything up after you have shown her how and then have her reset it.

Sit nicely. Ask your daughter to sit at the table and wiggle all about. Then show her the right way and tell her that from now on, when we sit at the dinner table, we are going to enter the "No Wiggle Zone." Repeat it several times. Turn it into a game by having her wiggle and then stop when you call out "No Wiggle Zone"!  The next time she starts to fuss, you can issue this reminder -- without the use of any yelling or name calling.

Eat the meal. You should lead your daughter through the dining process and explain your expectations for every meal. If she needs to use a fork, then let her know she should use the fork for X type of food.

Here are some other basics things that your daughter is ready to learn about the family table:

1.       Wash your hands and face before you sit down.

2.       Place your napkin on your lap.

3.       Say "please" when you want more or need something passed to you.

4.       Always use silverware if you can.

5.       Don't forget to say "thank you" for your meal.

6.       "May I be excused?" -- never leave the table without asking first.

Table manners are always a huge thing for parents, but it takes lots of time and patience. There really is no substitute for good old-fashioned practice. The key to quick success is in making it fun and making it something that the whole family does together.

Thank you so much for the question and please remember to submit more questions to MrsManners, or just respond to this post. 


Angie aka MrsManners

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