Holiday Table Manners and Etiquette Tips for Your Children

November 2020

By Peeka Tildesley, Etiquette Expert,


The global pandemic has disrupted our lives in countless ways. Yet, it has also allowed us to spend more time together as a family. With the holidays fast approaching, now is an ideal opportunity to discuss and teach proper etiquette to your children. Learning the basics of etiquette will provide lifelong advantages to your children. Let us start with some table manners that you can practice as a family.

Establish an atmosphere where your children know something more is expected of them. Take the time to create a nice tablescape. It does not need to be fancy, but something more than the ordinary. Creating a nice table is also a perfect time to ask your children to drop their phones in a basket away from the table. While this will be a hard sell, it establishes a good habit and helps children develop the focus and conversational skills so important in life.

Knowing proper table manners provides the confidence to handle all kinds of situations, and they will stand out because people will notice. Proper etiquette and table manners are also a show of respect to the others. When introducing the art of good table manners, remind your children that these are skills that can help them every day for the rest of their lives.

Start by asking your children to set the table. I am always amazed how many young adults do not know how to set a table. FORK on the LEFT, KNIFE on the RIGHT, BREAD on the LEFT, DRINK on the RIGHT. Have them sing it to themselves! Share the diagram above and they will see that spoons are to the right of the knife, and the knife blade edge should always face the plate. The dessert spoon and fork sit above the plate horizontally.

Now, it is time to eat! When your children come to the table (device free, hat free), compliment them on how nice the table looks. At the family meal have your children wait until everyone is seated and mom or dad begins by lifting their fork. Let’s begin!

The napkin is placed to the left of the fork. Take the cloth napkin, folding it to a rectangle and drape it across your lap, with the fold facing towards your waist. Can you believe the napkin has five uses? It starts the meal when the host lifts his or her napkin, it catches crumbs, it is used for wiping your mouth, it covers your mouth if you sneeze or cough, and it ends the meal when folded and placed back on the table to the left of your plate (NOT on your dirty plate!). If you must excuse yourself during the meal to use the restroom, leave your napkin on your chair.

Holding silverware improperly is the most noticeable “faux pas” of all the table manners. Hold your silverware properly at the top portion of the handle. There are 2 styles of holding utensils 1) Zig Zag or American style which is 4 steps and 2) Continental or European style which is 2 steps. It is easy to google these styles and work with your children on properly holding utensils.

And now, the all-important conversational skills. Since the handshake is put on hold at the moment, it is time to develop an alternative. Let us talk about greetings. Smile and say hello and make direct eye contact. If wearing a mask, remind your children the eyes can make all the difference. By smiling under your mask, the muscles in your face make your eyes shine and sparkle! It is often said the eyes tell all, so use them to convey a warm greeting. And of course, standing up straight and speaking clearly round out a great greeting.

Learning how to contribute to a conversation builds self-confidence and communication skills that will benefit your children the rest of their lives. At the dinner table, discuss topics of interest to your children – sports, a movie or TV shows are fine. The objective is to get your children to engage and be present in the conversation. Teach them to listen to others and offer their own views or have them tell a story at the table. Conversation can be like a fun volleyball game, back and forth!

Good table manners can be learned at any age, all it takes is a little guidance and practice. Once learned, your children will benefit in innumerable ways. Enjoy your time together as a family this holiday season and make proper table manners a great way to start 2021!

Below are quick table manner tips to review together as a family.


Table Basics

  • Serve to someone from the left. Remove from the right.
  • Pass all items to the right for one complete rotation, then items can go either way.
  • Place the item passed on the left side of the person who requested it.
  • Pass dishes with the handle facing the receiver so they are easy to grab.
  • Place any condiments (ketchup/mustard) on your plate with the serving utensil from the serving dish, then use your own knife to put the condiments on your food.
  • If your silverware falls on the floor, pick it up and get a clean one.
  • The salt and pepper are always married, never separated.

Personal Presence

  • Elbows stay off the table.
  • Sit up straight! Good posture makes a good impression.

The Food: Dining v. Overindulgence

  • Do not overload your plate.
  • Chew with your mouth closed, always! And chew slowly, enjoying your food in a “mindful” way.
  • If you are having a roll, break off one piece at a time, butter and eat. Do not butter your entire roll at once.
  • Never, ever lick your knife!

Courtesy and Cooperation

  • Compliment the meal!
  • Remember to use the power words, please: thank you and excuse me.
  • Help clear the table.