Etiquette Q&A: Teaching Table Manners to Young People

We began our etiquette series with several questions related to basic table manners. Many of you commented on the importance of sharing these guidelines with younger generations. That led us to our second installment: a few pointers for passing down these classic elements of decorum to young children and teenagers. As you so happily reminded us, no matter your age, good manners never go out of style.

If you have etiquette questions, concerns, or success stories that you would like to share, please send them to us using our contact page.

Etiquette - Southern Lady Magazine


Q: I want to teach table manners to my children while making it fun for them to learn. Any suggestions?

A: Once you decide your child is ready to learn table manners, start with one simple thing: no elbows on the table, napkin in your lap, etc. Do not proceed with another item until the first is mastered. You will be surprised how quickly your children will be reminding you of the manners they have learned. Do not overwhelm them with too many things to remember; it will only discourage them and make mealtime a painful experience.

One method that works very well with children is to ask questions in a game-type format: Who can remember where the napkin goes after the meal? Which fork is the salad fork?

Q: Teenagers need to be reminded of table manners but can be resistant to constant suggestions. I want my children to use good manners, especially as they approach their adult years and need to know proper etiquette. Any ideas?

A: One good way to find out what your children know is to host a dinner party for them and ask them to invite several of their closest friends, boys and girls. Be sure to tell them this is a dinner party.

Our editor-in-chief Phyllis Hoffman DePiano tried this with her sons during their senior year of high school. Knowing that the year would be full of dinners, parties, and receptions, she decided she needed to test the waters. She began by using a very simple place setting, and placing the dessert fork at the top of the plate. All of the guests arrived on time and dressed nicely. While the fork at the top of the plate initially confused some of them, she coached them along. “We had fun and laughed during the meal as we discussed the need for understanding table manners in business situations and social occasions,” she recalls.

After the meal was over, Phyllis sat down with her sons to discuss how the evening went. They related how the cutlery and napkins were used and the overall status of everyone’s table manners. As she remembers, “The napkin tally was this: one friend did not place his napkin in his lap until being reminded, two tossed the napkin in the plate at the end of the meal, three knew to place the napkin in the seat of their chairs as they left during the meal, and four placed the napkin to the side of the plate at the end of the meal.”

When it came to lasting impressions, she says the party allowed her sons to observe firsthand how good manners make a lasting statement about a person without speaking a word. It allowed them to fully understand how their own decorum might be interpreted by a prospective employer, business associates, or the parents of friends. As for knowing she sent her sons into the world knowing how to properly carry themselves, she says, “It is every mother’s dream.”

Etiquette - Southern Lady Magazine