You asked

My two year old has no table manners. What can I do to start teaching them?

At two, your child’s table manners probably leave a lot to be desired. Food is as likely to end up on the floor, or your child, as it is to get inside his or her mouth. Beverages will be poured onto everything, and your child probably still grasps his or her eating utensils fairly awkwardly. When your child is hungry, he or she is far less concerned with the niceties of napkins and utensils as he or she is with getting food in his or her body.

All of this is perfectly normal, and it’s unrealistic to expect a two year old to observe proper table manners – however, he or she can start to learn the basics. Sit down to dinner with your child. Show your child how to eat with his or her utensils, and tell them that throwing food is not okay in your house. If your child does spill or mess, however, treat it calmly, and simply clean it up.

If your child is fidgeting, playing with his or her food, or other wise acting up at the table, it’s probably a sign that he or she is full, or bored with sitting at the table. Rather than forcing your child to sit still, or finish his or her food, it’s best just to assume that they are done, and remove the food. This will help your child to learn that telling you that he or she is finished eating is better than playing with food at the table.

The good news is that with time and practice, your child should learn table manners, and by age six, most children who’ve had adequate instruction will be capable of eating on their own at a restaurant or even a dinner party.

Remember to be patient, and to set a good example. A few calm or playful reminders of good manners also go a long way.

It will be a while before you can have a relaxed and genteel family dinner, but in the mean time, it helps to know what you can expect at what age. At two, your child should be able to use a spoon and fork to eat (albeit not too neatly), wipe their own face with a napkin, and sit still for a few minutes at the dinner table.

By the time your child is four, he or she should be chewing with their mouth closed (with some reminding), not splattering food everywhere, not talking while eating, using their utensils correctly, drink properly from a cup without spilling, and be okay with having a little bit of everything on their plate (even if they don’t eat it all.) They will also probably be able to excuse themselves from the table.

Six year olds can do all of the things their younger peers can, as well as sit quietly at the table when you have company, and by eight, your child should have good table manners, and may even compliment the cook, while avoiding criticizing dishes they don’t like. They can probably also help to clear the table after the meal.

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