How to encourage high chair and table manners with under 3's

Parenting Podcast episode 7


Manners, we all want our kids to have them. But how do we get our kids to eat their dinner without it ending in tears? 

In this parenting chat, we discuss practical ways to tackle the issues of grazing, refusing to sit at the table, throwing food from the high chair and more.

Our top tips for encouraging your toddler and preschooler with their table/high chair manners are:

The best place to learn table manners is at home. If you can practice at home and make it normal then they will naturally transfer this behaviour when you are out and about. Being consistent is the key.

Here's our top tips for helping our kids with table and high chair manners. 

  1. Please and thank you 

If we as adults use manners at the table then our kids will watch and think is is normal. Over time they start mimicking. Using manners at the table can start as soon as you start giving them solids.

When they are 6 months old, start with using the sign language of "please", "thank you" and "all done"

As they get older key phrases that you use each time they forget can be super helpful. Replacing the "I want..." with a "Please can I...."

2. No throwing food or smearing it around their tray

We can avoid them throwing or smearing food by:

+ Distracting them: Give them a spoon to distract them from throwing food

+ Not overloading the tray or plate. Don't put too much food on their tray if they are likely to start throwing it

+ Holding both hands "remember to keep your food on the tray"

If they keeping throwing food off the tray "I can see you are all done now, so we'll wipe your hands and face and you can get down now". Follow the same pattern every meal so your child gets the message that this is what we do in our family.

3. Family quality time

Choose a meal each day where you can sit down as a family. One meal a day is a great time to try have family time and encourage great manners. They learn from watching you and the others around the table. 

They are watching you use a knife and fork and not throwing food.

4. Dinner is not the time to learn new things

Try to have early dinners so they are more likely to eat it. Sometimes kids get "hangry" when they are super hungry. Choose a meal once a day where you introduce a new food, cutlery or other skill to learn and the other meals are the opportunity to practice.

5. Use age appropriate cutlery and table ware

Use stick on plates when they are in the throw off of the tray stage. 

Use food on the tray to distract them while you are feeding them with a spoon ie cooked kumara which they can pick up and try feeding themselves

6. Avoid them having a mouthful and wandering off

Have all the kids at the table so they are not distracted by a wandering sibling who is playing while you are trying to get them to eat. If you have everyone at the table until everyone has finished. With a young child, if they are getting wriggly take them out of the high chair and they could sit on your knee and get them to nibble on some finger food from your plate so they learn to stay at the table a bit longer.

7. Expect that they will try things

Have a bite of each thing on the plate. 

8. Dinner is a celebration rather than a time to teach new skills

Make it a place to come together and chat about the day. Set a tone where we are enjoying everyone's company. We are all participating in it. We are present in the moment and having the experience of being together. We want to avoid controlling them and constantly by critising what they are doing.

We want to set a positive tone: "I really enjoy hanging out with you and we happen to be sharing a meal together".

We avoid having toys on the tray. This teaches them early that we don't have toys at the table we are chatting and eating. That way when they are teenagers they know that we won't have cellphones at the table.

9. Have an end to it

Use baby sign language of "all done" when they are young so they know the meal is finished. Then when they get older it's a great idea to get them to ask before they leave the table, so they don't eat one mouthful and run off.


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