Table Manners for Teens & Preteens

Archived Q&A and Reviews


How to teach 10 year old boy table manners

April 2014

My son is 10 and has ADHD. We haven't been focused on his table manners until recently, as we've had other, more important issues to deal with - school, homework, friendships, etc. But recently we watched him at dinner and realized that his manners are worse than they were when he was a toddler. Some of it may be OT-related (difficultly with the manual dexterity needed to hold a fork and knife, etc.), but some of it likely is related to lack of practice due to our not having made table manners a priority. I had hoped this behavior would improve over time, but clearly it's heading in the wrong direction. Any suggestions for how we can help him? A manners video? -No feet on the table, please

Direct, explicit teaching would be best.

''Ralph.. please put your napkin in your lap. good.Now sit up straight. Just like that. Wow, you did that so well. Now make sure you are eating with your fork and knife..''.

If he forgets, simply remind him. If he forgets again, show him how you do it and remind him again. If he forgets again, say something like ''if you don't use your fork, you will have a 10 minute time out (or.. I will take your food away from you for 10 minutes,.. or you will not get dessert, or whatever- and stick to what you say)

I have a son with ADHD, and he tends to eat really fast, gulping and not cutting with knives and such. He also never remembers his napkin, sits up like a hunched over convict... The best thing to do is model the good behavior you want him to use. Make sure you are ALWAYS using good table manners. Then remind him constantly. He may forget, but he's definitely old enough to figure out what you want pretty quick. No videos are needed. Just tell him what you expect of him.

We pretty much start most meals with reminders. Then he comes along pretty quickly. We have been working on his table manners all his life and he's 11. One day it will all come together I'm sure. been there

I have an almost 10yr old with ADHD and terrible table manners, so I feel your pain. Frankly, for us it's still not worth the battle. We have other priorities, such as getting him to eat (he's on stimulants during school and still not hungry most of the day). He doesn't have the fine motor skills to use a knife, and he becomes super frustrated and oppositional if we encourage him to try. However, here are some ideas:

1. Work on just 1 or 2 things at a time. For us it's keeping his body to himself while at the table and not bringing up inappropriate conversation (potty words usually. Yes, still dealing with that. Got to love the lack of impulse control in ADHD kids).

2. Have a reward. We use a token system where he earns tokens for good behavior, etc., and he can trade in the tokens for rewards. If getting a lot of calories into him isn't an issue, dessert can be a reward. You know your kid--what does he love that he can get immediately after dinner?

3. This sounds crazy for a 10yr old, and I can't believe it works for us, and of course it's not ideal when you're trying to have a family conversation over dinner, but I've been reading my kids Harry Potter and they're entranced. I'll eat my dinner faster than they do then read to them while they're finishing up then while they have dessert. My son calms down tremendously during these readings and eats automatically, kind of without realizing what he's doing, even eating stuff he's declared he'll never touch. I *do* only read as long as they're eating and will remind them if they stop LOL.

4. When I'm reading, my son might actually try to use the knife to cut his food. I always make sure the food is something easy for him to cut, otherwise I'll cut it before giving it to him. But usually he won't even try and just shoves it all into his mouth. But when he's calm from the reading and not really paying attention, I find that he's less averse to doing things that come naturally to others but he finds difficult and frustrating.

Hope this helps. My son still has terrible table manners. I'm hoping peer pressure will make him care enough to put in more effort. Meanwhile, it's been slow work. Ava

Trust me, this doesn't get better on its own. There's a question on the BPN website from the parent of a 19 year old who never got around to teaching her kid table manners and now she's worried this will affect his adult relationships and career options.

My 13 year old son has several friends who never learned table manners. When they have dinner with us, they use their fingers to push food on to their forks, or they skip the fork entirely and pick up food with their hands, or they mechanically shovel food into their mouths while hunched over their plates. One kid recently sat down to dinner with 10 of us, holding a magazine in front of her face for the entire meal. Very rude. Her mom was at the table too so I said nothing.

I do correct kids at my table when their parents aren't present. If you're lucky the parents of your son's friends will do the same when your son visits. I think kids who have terrible table manners are at a disadvantage, and that other adults should pitch in. So when a 13 year old has dinner with us and starts picking up the beans with his hands, I say ''Fork?'' in a friendly offhand way. They do pick up the fork. Or I'll say ''Would you like me to get you another napkin?'' when they are wiping their hands on their shirts after picking up buttered potatoes with their fingers. They will say ''Oh, I have a napkin already'' and then use it. I also frequently have teens and young adults at my table who want to text during dinner, and I tell them our house rule is no phones at the table. Sometimes they are surprised! But they always put the phone away. Now they know a little more about conventions at the table and they will be less disadvantaged in the future. 

You need to take some action. Tell your son it's time to work on table manners, so he knows ahead of time. Pick one area of focus at a time. Say ''I'm going to help you remember to use a fork to eat.'' If you aren't already having family dinner together every night, start doing it. Then at EVERY meal, every time he picks up food with his hands, remind him to use the fork. At my house we say ''Use the fork, Luke!'' (Star Wars reference - get it?)

local mom

Hi- I come from a home that didn't really value or teach manners and I resented that later in life.... so now that I am am a mom to 3 kids, I am determined to give my kids the skills to eat properly and respectfully. It helps that my husband was raised in a house that did really value manners, so we are unified in that regard.

I found myself repeating the same thing over and over again, ''knees down'', ''close mouth while chewing'' etc and I started not only see how annoying this was to my kids, but also it was irritating me! Finally, one day, I just decided that I would no longer say ''knees down'' or whatever else behavior I was trying to correct for the millionth time. Instead, I would say Strike 1, followed by Strike 2. Strike 3 would mean no dessert.

It was an immediate success. We clearly established the rules and each kid got to add their own as well: no saying ''Yuck!'' to food, no getting up without being excused, no burping without saying ''excuse me'' etc. Anyone can call Strike for anyone else's transgression and just to up the ante, my husband and I only get 2 strikes before we are out. It has worked like a charm and my kids now have fun minding their manners. We recently got back from visiting my parents, and my kids had fun calling strikes against my mom, who still chews loudly with her mouth open. Mama of 3

This is I did with my boys:

- Picked a few desirable behaviors at a time to work on (keeping the chair on the floor, elbows off the table, and talking AFTER swallowing), and explain they are expected.

- At dinner, put about five chocolate chips on their placemats (hey, I know we're not supposed to bribe... but it sure worked)

- For each infraction, quietly take away one chocolate chip and put it on MY placemat. Sometimes they ask why but usually all I have to do is give a look and they know. Arguing results in a second chip removed.

- At the end of the meal, everyone eats what chocolate chips are on their placemats

Every year or so I have to do a little refresher for a week or two... but it has been very effective and eliminates the nagging which I don't like to do. - C

19-year-old's terrible eating manners

August 2010

Our 19-year old son is a wonderful person in all ways except one: his eating habits. Even when we are guests at others' homes, he wolfs down large portions and keeps his complete focus only on his plate; he frequently takes very large second (and third) helpings; notwithstanding our repeated reminders, he ''helps'' his salad and other food onto the fork w/ his fingers -- in short, his eating habits are poor and embarrassing. Perhaps the failing is ours (altho our 17-yr- old daughter has none of these habits, so we must have done something right). We thought this might improve after a year of college but it hasn't. When we point something out to him at home, he makes light of it and we are reluctant to confront him directly about it in a general way for fear it will make him feel bad about himself and make him very self-conscious. We are by no means very formal people, but we don't want this to reflect badly on him (or us) as he starts to be in more adult situations in the future. We would welcome suggestions. Thanks. Perplexed

It is probably too late now, since is an adult, but you can still tell him that when he is eating at your table, such manners aren't allowed. If he won't accomodate your wishes, have him eat in another room. parent of teens

Hello, To be honest, I think you are doing your son a big disservice not to really work with him on this. My daughter is 12 now and I find that when she has friends over that don't have decent table manners it is a bit of a turn-off. It isn't cute or really all that understandable after a certain age. I remember having a realtor with bad table manners and even though that wasn't part of his job description it was a turn-off. I think you need to talk to him about it. Don't be wishy-washy about it being an up for grabs choice. It will affect him socially and professionally. Maybe he can have his choice whether he reads a book, attends a class, looks online or you lay it out but he just needs to do this. I am sorry you didn't work with him earlier when it was a more comfortable topic (when he was a child) and you can tell him that was your fault, but you need to find a way to really talk to him about it. It is totally unpleasant for other people to be around. Good luck. Mom who insists on decent manners

Ah, this is not an issue of intellect and manners. This is animal training. And you as the trainer are sending the wrong signals and confusing the animal and making yourself upset.

Your wolf-son is very hungry, so as long as he associates the dinner table with satiating his bottomless pit of hunger, he will neglect all other niceties like napkins, forks, conversation and actually tasting the food you spent time preparing.

So separate these two actions. This is how you do it. A couple of hours before the real meal, have him taken to a cheap dive all-you-can-eat locale to gorge himself. Let the animal overfeed. Yes, it's gross, but he'll probably love it.

Now for the real meal. Make it formal. Put out extra forks and spoons and stuff. Make it really complicated to eat. And then be *hypercritical* of his eating habits. Demand conversation. Talk about how each mouthful of wonderful food you've prepared (or had prepared) tastes. Gee - one guy I know loves to have sushi texture discussions with about 15 different types of tuna. Or different types of olives (there are about a gazillion). Cheese assortments are also good, plus any complicated fruit. Use weird utensils. Make it a competition!

Once he gets the message it's not about gorging, it's about social interaction, he'll start playing the game. And he'll be more popular in college - rare sushi dishes, unusual coffees and elaborate Chinese menus were a staple of my college years, and resulted in a couple of startups, so it is important. Lynne