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Pulling up a chair at someone else's family table requires standards you may not strictly enforce at home. Preparation is key. Explain to your child that she'll be eating a meal or snack while visiting, and that she'll need to thank the host for what she's given.
If the other family is religious and yours isn't, you might mention that they may say a prayer before eating, and that she should listen quietly. You can remind her to thank her hosts for any meal or refreshment and refrain from making any unflattering remarks about what she's served.
Role-playing can be a fun way of teaching table manners. "Now, I'm at the table and Mrs. McNeil has given me hamburger-and-zucchini casserole. Should I say 'Ewww, gross, I'm not going to eat this green stuff?' Or should I take a bite?"
The question of whether your child actually has to eat what she's been given is controversial, and it's something you'll have to decide for yourself. Here's what etiquette maven Donna Jones, author of Taming Your Family Zoo: Six Weeks to Raising a Well-Mannered Child, advises: "If it's a main dish being served that she doesn't like, she can just take a little bit on her plate, whether she eats it or not. If it's a side dish, it's okay to say 'No, thank you.'"
If you have an older child, at least 5, who's not phenomenally picky, you could suggest that she try at least one bite and say nothing if she doesn't like it. A younger child or a fussier one may not be able to accomplish this gracefully. If you think that's the case, you don't need to insist that she taste it.
By age 2, many kids can:
- sit at a table with people other than parents and eat with a fork or spoon, but not neatly
By age 4, many kids can:
- refrain from splattering food or beverages while eating
- chew with their mouth closed – if you're willing to remind them
- refrain from talking while eating, but they may need a reminder
- drink from a cup neatly
- ask to be excused from the table
- tolerate having a small amount of all the foods served on their plate
- thank the hosts for refreshments – with some prompting
By age 8, many kids can:
- help with clearing the table
- compliment the cook
- refrain from bad-mouthing what is served
- try at least one bite of everything being served
- pretend to eat some of everything being served