About a week into spearheading an effort to teach our four-year old son table manners, I was pleased as punch that my little guy, always a rule follower, was coming around to civilized dining. And then, we had dinner guests over.

Everything was going swimmingly until my darling boy enthusiastically reminded one of our dinner guests that it’s, in fact, bad manner to talk with dinner guests mouth full. Everyone was quite embarrassed, although my husband and I certainly had a chuckle about it later that evening.

We all know parenting is challenging. You think you’re doing something right, like teaching your children table manners, only to have it blow up in your face (hopefully a face that’s not talking and with food in one’s mouth, modeling people!).

Despite our little mishap, teaching young children manners is one of our most important jobs as parents. At a baseline, good manners model kindness, respect, and consideration for others.

Beyond this, learning manners begins to set the tone for these naturally egocentric little dears, that the world is not simply here to serve them.  

So, when my son came home from his sweet little Montessori preschool with fun little rhymes and mantras that encouraged good manners, I was thrilled!

Dr. Seuss was no dummy, he, I’m sure realized, that not only are stories that rhyme and alliterate easier and more fun to read, they are much easier to remember. I mean, who can’t recite a few lines from Green Eggs and Ham off the top of their heads?

And, if these sing-song stories are easier to remember, so too are cute little manners mantras.

Here’s five of my favorites we’ve picked up over the preschool years:

1. “Napkin in your lap, clap, clap, clap.” 

Kiddos tend to love physical movement of any kind, which makes this gentle cue at good table manners a winner.

2. “Bon appetit, let’s eat!.” 

A phrase to be uttered once everyone is seated (especially the cook!), signaling it’s appropriate to begin the meal. Bonus points for learning a little French!

3. “Don’t yuck someone’s yum.”

For many of us parents, it’s hard enough to get your children to eat healthfully without Bud the Bully telling them their dolmades look like turds (true story here…name has been changed to protect the privacy of “Bud” ?). This little phrase also helps remind little ones that it’s not appropriate to complain about what is offered up at the dinner table.

4. You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit.”

Speaking of picky eaters, this phrase was brought home after my kiddos trip to the Grandparents, when I’m assuming, Grandpa attempted to make lunch. I know this little saying has been around for ages, but I was thrilled to be reacquainted.

5. You can be nice or you can be quiet.” 

A little mantra to quickly convey “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” It also heeds the wise parenting advice of giving your children two acceptable choices, in lieu of barking orders at them.

Whenever possible, leave behind the scolding and replace it with fun while learning and enforcing manners. It is going to be a much more gratifying path for all involved.

~Elizabeth Curtiss, Happy Mom Life Lab Founder

6. Elbows Off the Table” song

I picked this little ditty up from a friend and have found it to be a fun game to use during family meals: “Katie, Katie if you’re able, keep your elbows off the table this is not a horse’s stable but a respectable dining table.”  It’s a fun one but know that there will be moments that your child sings it to you but that’s what makes it fun!

7. “We say ‘Thank you,’ we say ‘Please’ we don’t interrupt or Tease.”

Enough said ?

I’ll list a few linked resources for you in a moment, but first, I want to close with a reminder that if you want to have quick success that sticks, avoid sounding like Charlie Brown’s teacher when you’re working on life skills!

Manners, like most any lesson you’re trying to teach kids, are so much easier to learn if it’s wrapped with fun.

If you start when kids are in preschool or before, you’ll find they emerge from toddlerhood with the magic words PleaseThank You, and I’m Sorry. And if you are starting with a bit older kids, know that these fun tips help make good manners easy and fun to remember. Either way, it sets the stage for expectations and social skills to grow naturally.

Elbows Off the Table Song

Other Manners Songs 

Madeline Says Merci Book 

Feature photo by Adobe, ©Happy Mom Life Lab. Article images licensed through Adobe (child pouting) and Nicole Vaughn (both book photos), all in the context of this article are ©Happy Mom Life Lab.

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