Pass the Manners, Please!

The only thing more annoying than eating with a family that has rude children, is being the family with the rude kids.  It happened to me only once, but it was traumatic enough for me to solemnly swear, “Never again!”

Table Manners Game

Humiliation is Served

By now beads of perspiration spotted my brow.  The dinner conversation was taking its toll.

“Audrey, please stop yelling at the table… Audrey, please sit up… For goodness sake, take smaller bites… You are talking with your mouth full again…  Didn’t I say stop yelling?…  Hey, get out from under the table… Put that dessert back until you finish your meal…Did you just spit your food out on the table?… How about saying please first…Stop reaching, you’re going to spill your… Great, you spilled your milk all over the table… It is not funny, Audrey!”

I could feel the judgmental glares from the other guests piercing me and I could hear their disgruntled thoughts.  Half were thinking, “Geez, lay off. She is just a kid and you sound like a broken record,” while the other half thought, “For crying out loud, why don’t you spank that little monster.”

I imagined the two groups both thought, “What a bad parent and what a miserable dinner party!”  The pressure was taking its toll.  I just wanted dinner to be over so I could hide myself.

Finally, it all came to a head.  My lovely daughter was yelling down the table for the umpteenth time.  By now everyone, including me, was sick of hearing my voice.  So, I decided to casually remind her to quiet down by tapping her leg under the table.  I stretched out my foot and gave a light tap.

She didn’t even blink – to excited to feel the nudge.  I stretched out again and kicked slightly harder.


I was determined to secretly get her attention, so I slid down in my seat giving myself enough reach to give her a good solid kick.  Unfortunately, the kick was very solid, a little too solid.  Audrey gasped, her eyes welded up with tears.  I held my breath.

Then the flood gates burst open and she started to wail, “Mommy kicked me!  Why did Mommy kick me?”  She was inconsolable and I was utterly humiliated, so I threw in the towel.  I smiled politely and excused myself.

On the way out, in a last ditch effort to save face, I made a classic parental excuse for my child’s poor behavior.  Looking very puzzled I claimed, “I don’t understand.  She never acts this way – she is probably just overly tired.  She hasn’t had a nap today.”

Then I tucked my tail and left.

The Game Changer

Luckily, that was a long time ago.  It is now my pleasure to take my children out with me.  Everywhere I go I get genuine compliments on how well-mannered my daughters are.  In fact, now if there is any embarrassment it is that my girls make their mother look ill-mannered in comparison.  I attribute their dramatic transformation to a silly little game I came up with called, “The Manners Game.”

the table manners game


The Manners Game is very simple.  Each family member gets three Popsicle sticks, or other reward, to put on their place mat.  Before the game commences, go around the table and have everyone recite a few “Table Manner Rules.”  After that, you are ready to begin.

If one family member sees someone breaking a “Table Manner Rule” he gets to take one of their Popsicle sticks.  Whoever has the most Popsicle sticks at the end of the dinner wins.

My kids love this game.  It is the only time they are “authorized” to correct Mom and Dad.  You can make the game more fun by intentionally making a few “manner mistakes” and then pretending to be shocked and outraged when your children correct you.  They will love it!

Of course, there are a few drawbacks.  For starters, playing games at the table is poor table etiquette.  So, you will want to explain that normally games are not allowed at the table during dinner time.  The Manners Game is a special exception and can only be initiated by a parent.  Also, remind them that ordinarily they are not allowed to correct adults.  They may only due so during the Manners Game.

When we first started playing the Manners Game we did not make a clear enough distinction.  So, at a big family get together, my three year old assumed it was OK to go around spot-checking her aunts and uncles’ table manners.

That said, overall this has been a wildly successful game.  The game not only taught my girls table etiquette, but also gave them incentive to self-correct.  Starting this game early, before bad habits are formed, will greatly increase your chances of being successful with the game.

For this reason, I can honestly say that the two people with the worst table manners in our family are now my husband and I.  Our bad habits have persisted for decades, making them much tougher to break and establish new ones.

However, our girls seemed to master table etiquette the first time we played the game!  We continued to play for several months and then slowly phased the game out.  Now that our daughters have formed good habits at the table, I believe that they would have to work hard even if they wanted to revert to their old ways.

I hope the Manners Game works as well for your family as it has for mine.  If you have some tips of your own, please leave a comment.

Check out my other posts on Manners:

Table Manner Rules Free Printable

Shy or Rude?

Manners for Children Video Hangout

Linking up Here

Want to Give Your Child a Head Start?

Check out our Preschool Curriculum.


  1. says

    I grew up 1 of 9. When we would go to restaurants, we got the talk before we went in. If you went crazy, you’d sit in the car by yourself until everyone else was done. It taught us to behave and every waiter/waitress we had was always pleasantly surprised how good we all were.
    I worked in a day care with some of the rudest children so when I had my daughter, I made manners a priority. Please, thank you, fork and napkin use, all of it.

    • says

      That is a lot of kids. If I had that many children I would want them to have good manners too. How could you go any where if they didn’t behave? I think manners makes everyone happier at the table. Thanks for sharing your experience!

    • says

      I know quite a few families with a lot of kids and they just don’t go anywhere. They even go grocery shopping late late at night when the kids are in bed so the husband can stay home and they don’t have to worry too much.

    • says

      I’m one of 7. We did these books called Health, Safety, and Manners (there were 3, I think) and manners were very big in my family. I would hate to think of 9 people in one home where manners are neither taught nor enforced. We went all over the place with my mom. Her phrase to remind us of manners was, “[place] is not a playground.” She got lots of compliments on how well behaved we were. When I have kids, manners will definitely be taught early on.

  2. says

    Hi Janine. Stopping by after seeing you in the blogroll over at Cafe’Mom. As a former 2nd Grade Teacher, I love nothing more than to see fun ways to help children learn all sorts of things. Great blog!

  3. says

    I’m so glad that you shared this on Saturday Show and Tell. The timing is great, our oldest son has been so great lately with saying ‘Thank You’ after everything. I am so glad that there are others who are working on teaching manners. Thanks for the post. I hope you’ll be back this week.

  4. says

    Oh, I was feeling your pain as I read this! It’s a neat idea and it sounds like you’ve reaped great results!

    Thanks so much for joining Flock Together on 6/12 at Mom’s Best Nest . You’re welcome to join in this week at 6 p.m. tonight!

  5. Jen D says

    Thank you for this… I have a 15 yr old, 8 yr old and 5 yr old and manners are quite an issue at dinner time! This was so helpful and inspirational for me! I can’t wait to try this..

  6. Anonymous says

    I played this with my stepchildren 20 years ago! We used pennies at the time. Since table manners are a pet-peeve of mine, I’m happy to say that all of my children (step and not) have excellent table manners. My nephews definitely need this so their father uses dollar bills since the boys aren’t really interested in the game.

    • says

      I hope I can bring the game back. I will have to try pennies when they get a little older. Dollar bills! Can I come play the game with your nephews? :) Thanks for reading.

    • says

      Great question! We have a general rule like, “No playing at the table”, and more specific ones like, “No elbows on the table”, “Don’t talk with your mouth full”, “Say, May I please and thank you”, “Ask to be excused”, and “Clear your place, wipe your face”. The rules really depend on what your parenting style is. You can start with just a couple that are the most important to you. After your child has those down, you could introduce a few more. Thanks for asking!

    • says

      Thank you so much for listing these. I was trying to think of some basics, and how I would introduce them (if she doesn’t already know them) to my 3 1/2-year-old. We work hard to teach our kids to be polite and well-mannered, but sometimes we’re at a loss. The biggest thing for us right now is interrupting. But since correcting our daughter on it time and time again…we’ve discovered that Daddy and Mommy do it too!!! Oops…

      I’m going to try this game. Thanks for the idea!

      Also, I think it’s awesome that you respond to so many comments. Makes the blog so much more personal.

  7. says

    My daughter is 4 and people always comment on her manners and how well-behaved she is. It really was just training from when she was still a baby and consistency. Had I known this game before, it would have been more fun for her to learn! I will definitely try this with her when I go back home. Thank you for sharing.

    • says

      That is awesome. If you start young it is so much easier when they are older. Let me know how she likes the game. My daughter is 4 too and she has better manners than me. She always catches me and I really try hard not to let her :) Thanks for reading!

  8. says

    I LOVE this idea, and will definitely be trying it out with my seven-year-old Wee Chum! I was a bit concerned by “ordinarily they are not allowed to correct adults” though. What if the adults really are wrong? I’d rather think Chum felt confident enough to point out when an adult is in the wrong, than that he felt unable to because of some misguided demand for respect on my part. What if, gods forbid, an adult was to abuse him? I’d like him to feel able to stand up and say “What you are doing is wrong!” :o)

    • says

      I am so glad you like it. I meant that normally we don’t let them correct adults at the table. It is a little embarrasing when we are at someone’s house and they point at the host and say, “You are chewing with your mouth open!” Lol. Of course they are aloud to tell us if someone is doing something seriously wrong. We just want to show them that there is a time when we don’t tell other adults they are having bad manners.

  9. says

    Another great idea! I may have to share with our readers if you dont mind (with a linkback of course!)
    Thanks for posting. Found you again on Shine on friday hop

  10. says

    Just what I was needing to find. I love your blog. This would be just the thing my daughter needs. We’ve been struggling, and I mean struggling with taking her and her almost 3 year old sister out to dinner. I’ve come to the point I hate going out to dinner. It’s exhausting. I’m warn out by the time I get home. We’ve got to give this game a try. It sound so simple, yet a great way to teach manners. Now do you have a game to the kids to eat? That would be awesome!

  11. says

    I SO appreciated seeing the part about correcting adults. Too many children are taught that it’s ok to say whatever is on their mind, however inappropriate it might be. Just last week, a Pre-K student and I were talking about taking bites of food instead of putting an entire cookie in at once, and she commented that we shouldn’t ‘shovel’ in our food. I agreed. However she went on to say that she was going to tell her dad that, because he does! We had to have another little chat, which was hard since some concepts – respect and rudeness take more than one short talk at school!

  12. says

    I can remember a time or two when my older children were little and I made the same excuse, “Oh…they are just tired, they didn’t take a nap today…” LOL Now I am working on my little ones, we just may have to try the manners game. Although they are well behaved but sometimes it gets a little rough. Great post!

  13. says

    Your Manners Game is a cute idea. Reminds me of something Mama Bear from Berenstein Bears might come up with. It’s nice when you can teach kids what you want them to learn in a fun way.

  14. says

    What an absolutely FABULOUS idea! My kids are very well mannered. Until we go out to eat! They are so excited, they get riled up. I can’t WAIT to play this game next time we go out! And I totally laughed at your story, because I have totally had those moments as a parent!

  15. says

    Great ideas…will be sharing this post.
    We also taught my son to open the door for his sisters & me. My girls had to learn to wait for him to open the door.

    When we lived in Idaho & ate at friends’ home, the men stood at the table until all women were seated. My 20 yo son still stands until all women are seated. That’s encouraging.

  16. says

    I love this idea we are playing this tonight! Do you think this would be to hard for a 2 year old or do you think he will get it. I have 2 boys and 1 on the way and we went out to eat for dinner last night and my boys would not sit still for anything! I was about to swear off ever going out again! Hope this helps them :) They really arent that bad but I got so tired of saying dont stand on the chair, dont go under the table eat your food, no dessert yet, and my 5 year old loves games so I know this will help him for sure!
    Thanks again

  17. Hathan says

    Hi! Great article! How do you convey to the kids what the manners are? Do you have a written list or chart or picture cues? Which manners and how many manners do you have on the list? Do you focus on just a few manners per meal for toddlers? Sorry to get into minutia here!

  18. Elizabeth says

    My parents played a very similar game with my brother and myself we called Manners Police. If we would catch someone who had bad manners at the table we would say “Manners police wee woo wee woo” and make our sirens. We were also always told this was a game we should only play at home. My mother’s motto has always been “Manners make a person nice to know.” It’s completely true.

  19. says

    I have read your post and i realy like it, because when we start eating food at home and some where, we should have manners to eat food and behavior with other members on the table. If we follow manners and teach our childerns. Definitely childern follow the manners.

  20. says

    This is a so great idea ! I have to try it !
    I was going to write the rules of the table (that they try to repeat by heart) but I was unsure my method (which I use for the play area and doesn’t seem to work so well).
    I will decorate some wood sticks with masking tape.
    Thanks a lot.

  21. felicity Aloisio says

    I have just found your blog and love this game idea. I just spoke briefly to my husband about it and my 5 year old over heard and asked ‘Whats that game mum can we play it’ So now i had to find the pin and get all the details so we can play it tonight. Thanks for a great idea :)

  22. says

    Been there as well, the humiliated parent at a public place – I’m sure most parents have at one time or other. Usually my daughter is ok, but I have been working on her manners lately. I’m learning with my daughter that positive correction does work quite a bit better than negative correction, so I have a feeling this simple game will work great.

  23. says

    As I said, I’ve tried that last July with my 2 sons of 6 and 8 years old.
    It ended up like a nightmare.
    They were not eating anymore trying to figure out when we would have a bad manner.
    “Hey you, I’ve seen you ! You did say a word while there was still a breadcrumb in you month ! Give me a stick ! I’m going to win this game !”
    Any advices to give me ?

  24. says

    We played a variation of this game a few years ago, but we used pennies instead of popsicle sticks. Family members actually took and kept the pennies whenever they saw another person not using manners. At the end of the meal, our son was allowed to keep any pennies he had. I was just talking to my husband tonight, after reading your post, about possibly needing to revisit this game. Thanks!

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  1. […] I wish I could say I came up with this idea myself…but unfortunately I didn’t. While spending yet another evening on Pinterest I came across a link to something called, “The Manners Game”. If you’d like to see the original post by ‘True Aim Education and Parenting’ click here. […]

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