It’s never too early to start laying the foundation for a well-mannered eater.

You can begin by modelling good table manners yourself. Show your toddler how you use utensils and a napkin, and make a point of saying please, thank you and excuse me at appropriate times. Even if they can’t master all of this yet (right now their bib is far more useful than a napkin!), they are learning by watching.

Keep in mind that, at this stage, your child is still struggling to hone the basics of self-feeding, so it’s best to hold a fairly flexible definition of good manners. Mealtimes should be an enjoyable learning experience for your toddler. –This means a certain amount of food play - touching and handling different textures, lining up crackers, dipping and dunking, borrowing some food from your plate, and yes, getting some of it on the floor, on their face and in their hair during the process. As long as some of the food is getting into their mouth and providing nourishment, indulge this messy behaviour for now.

That isn’t to say that you shouldn’t set limits. Throwing food, dishes, or utensils across the room is a no-no. Are they screaming at the table? Piling food in their mouth only to spit it all out? Smearing food all over their high chair without even attempting to eat? Not acceptable! In fact, such behaviour signals that your toddler isn’t hungry or that their appetite has been satisfied. Nip these behaviours in the bud by calmly removing them from the table, so they learn that’s not the way to behave while eating.

Within a year, when your child is able to feed themselves and follow directions well, you can begin to work on conventional table manners, like sitting up straight and not chewing with their mouth open.


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