How parents can help their children to use cutlery and sort out table manners

Table manners are dead – or so says a recent study.

More than half of British children do not eat with a knife and fork, reveals a survey from doddl.

Struggles to use cutlery mean that 60% of kids abandon their tools and eat dinners with their hands, while 55% constantly pick at food with their fingers.

Our young ones are displaying other rubbish dining etiquette along with their rejection of cutlery – 28% of parents say their children always talk with their mouths full, and nearly a quarter (23%) of British children lick their knives clean.

So it’s not so surprising that three in ten parents describe their children’s table manners as terrible, or that 23% of mums and dads feel humiliated when taking their kids out to eat – with some avoiding restaurants entirely to skip the embarrassment.

How can we remedy the shame, get our little ones using cutlery correctly, and get manners back on the table? We asked the experts to get this tricky issue sorted.

How to help your children use cutlery correctly

It’s worth getting your children using cutlery as soon as possible.

‘As soon as they are weaning – so from around six months old – they can have a spoon to start feeding themselves,’ parenting expert Auntie K tells Metro.co.uk. ‘The earlier the better. As they get used to food, a fork is great to bring in too.’

Working on motor skills and using gentle encouragement will be key in these early stages.

Try getting children to pass objects from hand to hand, play with play dough (cutting it up will get them used to the motion of slicing food), and post objects in boxes. All of this will hone their skills.

As children learn, don’t discourage them from using their hands.

John Adams, dad-of-two and author of Dad Blog UK, explains: ‘When children first learn to eat solids, you actively want them to use their fingers. This is how they learn to feed themselves to begin with.’

You won’t want kids playing with their food forever, of course, but don’t scold this behaviour – it’s an important part of the learning process.

One children know how to eat with a knife and fork, it’s all about coaching them to actually do so.

‘Gentle reminders to use cutlery, good role modelling and plenty of praise will all help,’ adds Auntie K.

‘Getting our kids to use cutlery can make dinner times a stressful time,’ Jo Mitchelhill, a teacher, foster carer, and parenting coach tells us.

‘Here are a few tips to consider…’

  • Make sure you are modelling the correct use of the cutlery. ‘Children are always watching what you are doing, not necessarily hearing what you are saying. If you aren’t eating together, then find time in your week to do this.’
  • Don’t freak out about kids touching food. ‘Sometimes, especially for young children, touching food is a sensory thing,’ notes Jo. ‘They like to know how what they are eating feels and are enjoying the entire experience of eating this way. Allowing them to experiment with the feel helps their brain development.’
  • Remain calm. ‘How much of an issue are you making it? What are the words that you are using? If it becomes a battle ground every time you sit down, then it becomes a habit. Decide is this a battle that you want to have every time you eat? Why is it annoying you? If we are chilled with it, they are more likely to pick the knife and fork up with little or no encouragement.’
  • Consider if you’re using the right cutlery – opt for smaller knives and forks designed for children’s ages. Jo says: ‘Is the cutlery they are using small enough for them? Or is that toddler spoon annoying because it is not deep enough and therefore they are better off with a teaspoon? Peas are difficult to scoop when your spoon is flat.’

‘Getting children comfortable using a knife and fork will take time,’ adds John. ‘I would always praise good behaviour and be aware that some foods will present your child with a challenge: Baked potatoes and sausages, for instance, can be tough so are probably best avoided while trying to encourage your child to develop their cutlery skills.

‘Also, don’t cut their food up more than necessary. This is a skill that has to be learned and if you cut food up for your offspring all the time, they won’t develop the necessary skills.

‘The best bit of advice I can give here is to get your children to eat with older peers. I noticed a massive improvement in my kids’ knife and fork use when they started at school and were having school lunches. They learn off each other and want to emulate older peers, so use this to your advantage.’

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